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Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012

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Golden touch: Zambia's players celebrate after beating Cote d'Ivoire to win the African Cup of Nations on Sunday. AP

Zambia beats favorite to capture African Cup of Nations


LIBREVILLE — Zambia returned to the scene of its worst sporting tragedy to make it a place of unrestrained joy after winning a nerve-racking African Cup of Nations final Sunday on penalties over tournament favorite Cote d'Ivoire.

Stophira Sunzu scored the deciding sudden-death spot-kick after Gervinho missed for the Ivorians, giving Zambia an 8-7 win on penalties after the teams were locked at 0-0 through 120 minutes.

Zambia's first African title came, poignantly, in Libreville and just a few kilometers from where almost the entire Zambian team was killed in a plane crash 19 years ago off the coast of the Gabon capital.

In a game of relentless drama and high emotion, the most significant moment was perhaps when Kalusha Bwalya, a member of the tragic team who was not on the ill-fated aircraft in 1993, lifted the Cup of Nations trophy up in one hand on the pitch, almost defiantly.

It was Zambia's first game in Libreville since that the plane crash.

"There was a sign of destiny, a force within us. Maybe it was meant to be," Zambia coach Herve Renard said. "I can't explain it, honestly I can't explain it. Something was written in the stars. It was not me."

Cote d'Ivoire captain Didier Drogba also missed a 70th-minute penalty to send the dramatic decider to extra time and then a shootout and boost Zambia's feeling that it was meant to win the African Cup here.

After both sides made their first seven penalties, Kolo Toure gave Zambia a chance at victory when his effort was saved by Kennedy Mweene. But Kalaba Rainford sent his effort high over the crossbar.

But Arsenal's Gervinho faltered as well and Sunzu made no mistake when it was his turn, drilling his penalty past Boubacar Barry for the title-clinching moment that capped a compelling, storybook ending.

The Zambians, who had watched the final few penalties on their knees with arms linked, erupted in joy and chased after Sunzu.

"That's (the plane crash) the thing that's been driving us through the tournament," goalkeeper Mweene said. "We have been thinking about that since we went into camp.

"It's one of those games. We were playing against big names but . . . we had to do it. The team spirit and the brotherhood in the team was the key for us."

City stays on course


LONDON — Manchester City kept fierce rival Manchester United at arm's length in the Premier League title race on Sunday, winning 1-0 at Aston Villa to maintain its two-point lead.

England center back Joleon Lescott grabbed the winner in the 63rd minute, hooking in a shot from close range after Gareth Barry nodded down a deep corner from James Milner.

Regaining the title initiative after United beat Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday, City has 13 matches to hold out if the club is to win the English League for the first time since 1968.

"We have been there (at the top) since August because we deserved it," City manager Roberto Mancini said. "It was a difficult game. We knew this before the game but the guys played fantastic football."

City could be given an unexpected boost in the title race following reports in the British media that Carlos Tevez is set to end his unauthorized stay in his native Argentina, where he has been since November.

Mancini gave little away regarding the potential return of his top scorer last season, saying: "Carlos knows the situation, we are here and it depends on him."

In the day's other match, Wolverhampton Wanderers dropped into the relegation zone by losing 5-1 at home to West Bromwich Albion.

Suarez says sorry


LONDON — Luis Suarez apologized Sunday for refusing to shake hands with Patrice Evra while Liverpool criticized its player for the first time in this protracted racism dispute that has tarnished the reputation of one of England's storied clubs.

Suarez snubbed Evra before Saturday's Premier League game at Old Trafford. This was the players' first meeting since Suarez was banned for eight matches for racially abusing the Manchester United defender in October.

"I have spoken with the manager since the game at Old Trafford and I realize I got things wrong," Suarez said in a statement released on Liverpool's official website.

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