THE Zambia Under -23 national soccer team yesterday eliminated Ivory Coast from the Senegal 2015 African Championship in a dramatic post-match penalties via 4-3 scoreline after the game ended in a barren draw in regulation time.
The win brings Zambia closer to participating at the Olympic game next year where the top three teams from the continent will automatically make it to the Rio showpiece in Brazil.
Goalkeeper Toaster Nsabata was hero of the day after he saved two spot-kicks to aid the team’s qualification to Senegal in a final round, return match played at Lusaka’s Nkoloma Stadium.
Jack Chirwa, Benedict Chepeshi, Solomon Sakala and Patson Daka converted their spot-kicks.
However, it was an emotional moment for Ronald Kampamba whose spot-kick was saved by Ivorian Bamba Drissa. Zambia’s other casualties in the shootout were Benson Sakala and Charles Zulu.
Claver Assale scored for Cote d’Ivoire while Jean Ahoulou and Habib Maiga kept the visitors hopes alive before Yao’s decider was saved by Toaster Nsabata. It was then that Daka stepped up to take the final penalty for the junior Chipolopolo and made no mistake, sending the stadium into rapture.
After a spate of poor results in international engagements, the team ignited the hope of Zambia going to the Olympics for the first time in 27 years when the dream team captained the by Kalusha Bwalya Zambia recorded a historic 4-0 win against mighty Italy.
Zambia had a fair share of chances in front of the goal but it was the physical presence of the Ivorians which was a snag in the junior Chipolopolo’s progress as the visitors stamped their authority in a closely contested match.
The Young Elephants could have opened the score line in the third minute but Claver Assale’s shot went soaring over the bar after a Bayo Issouf cross.
Three minutes later, Cohlibaly Soulymane nicely set up Issouf but his shot was saved by Nsabata.
Zambia’s first scoring chance came in the 10th minute when midfielder Mukuka Mulenga failed to convert Shadreck Malambo’s pass.
In the 28th minute Kampamba tested the goal but his effort was saved by the Ivorian goal-minder.
Two minutes later, coach Fighton Simukonda introduced Solomon Sakala for defender Mumbi Mweene who failed to impress the technical bench and the massive crowd which demanded for his removal. With 38th minutes played, Zambia’s enterprising winger Kelvin Mubanga came close to find the opener but his effort was saved by the agile Ivorian goalkeeper.
The junior Chipolopolo continued pressing for a goal and a clear chance presented itself five minutes to half time but Friday Samu failed to chip the ball over the advancing goalkeeper at close range.
Zambia suffered a setback as Mubanga could not continue playing due to an ankle injury and was substituted by Charles Zulu.
It was a virtuoso performance as the first half wore on with both teams pressing hard to break the deadlock.
Ivory Coast came back more rejuvenated in the second half but could not find the back of the net as Nsabata continued with his acrobatic saves to keep the West Africans at bay.
Simukonda replaced Mukuka Mulenga who seemed to run out of steam in the second half for Patson Daka to add more firepower upfront but Zambia still could not break the jinx as the visitors held on, forcing the game to be decided through post-match penalties.
The African championship in Senegal will run from November 28 to December 12 while the top three teams at the tournament will qualify to the 2016 Summer Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from August 5 to 21.