2012 was supposed to be Ivory Coast’s year in African football. Les Éléphants had a squad that was capable of making their opponents tremble before even stepping onto the field. Their three-man frontline featured Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, and of course the incomparable Didier Drogba. Yaya Touré pulled the strings from the midfield, while his brother, Kolo, and Didier Zokora smoothly cut out any attacks from the opposition. The late Cheick Tioté was one of the fiercest tacklers in world football. After two disappointing World Cup exits in 2006 and 2010, as well as a failure to win the Africa Cup of Nations in that period, the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations was a must win for the Ivorians and their “Golden Generation.”
Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba: Two of Ivory Coast’s elite attackers
For their opponents in that year’s final, Zambia, this particular tournament had a special significance. In 1993, the Chipolopolo (‘Copper Bullets’) were a rising side not only in Africa, but in all of international football, having handily defeated a shocked Italy 4-1 in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. However, a flight carrying the team to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal crashed off the coast of Gabon, tragically taking the lives of all on board. Nearly twenty years later, the Africa Cup of Nations tournament was being held in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, only miles from the crash site. The Chipolopolo went to a Gabonese beach after qualifying to lay wreaths and honor the victims. While Ivory Coast saw this match as a way to shed its reputation of failing at the last hurdle, this final meant absolutely everything to Zambia.
Heroes’ Acre: The resting place of the victims of the 1993 plane accident just outside Independence Stadium in Lusaka.