Next year we hope Nigerian super-pastor T.B. Joshua will let us know what 2013’s top 10 sporting moments will be well ahead of time (we’ll be starting our dedicated sports page “Football is a Country” in the new year and if Joshua wants to join in he’s more than welcome). While professional TV pundits cautiously offer that “whoever scores first has a great chance of winning” and other such banalities, and Gary Neville has recently been praised for his detailed dissection of defensive errors, all that is small fry for T.B. Joshua, who has the distinct advantage of being able to watch all major football matches ahead of time in the company of God the Father (that link shows him supposedly prophesying Zambia’s African Cup of Nations win). Just a shame he couldn’t be bothered with the Olympics. Here’s our rundown of 10 great moments in African sport from the year just past.
1. Chipolopolo bring the African Cup of Nations home
Stoppila Sunzu sang in unison with his team-mates behind him as he smashed in the penalty-kick that won Zambia the African Cup of Nations (skip to 17m 30s in the video above). Didier Drogba’s penalty miss and taunting by Zambian goalie Kennedy Mweene and 120 minutes of energy-sapping play brought Chipolopolo, massive underdogs before the tournament, to a penalty shootout they seemed fated to win, nineteen years on from the plane crash in Gabon that killed their great team of 1993 (this report from 1994 is worth watching). Days before the final the 2012 squad laid flowers at the scene of the crash. Spine-tingling stuff, and in what was generally a depressing year to be a football fan, Zambia’s victory gave us hope.
Here are all the goals they scored on their way to that night in Libreville; this was how Zambia’s great broadcaster Dennis Liwewe reflected on the triumph; and this is how the champions were welcomed home to Lusaka. It’s been an incredible year for Zambian football, and it ended in appropriate style — Christopher Katongo was named BBC African Footballer of the Year and Godfrey Chitalu’s all-time world record of 107 goals in 1972 came to global prominence.
2. David Rudisha wins Olympic 800m gold in a World Record 1:40:91
Just watch it again and enjoy. Botswana’s 18 year old Nijel Amos ran an incredible race in second, but he just couldn’t get near Rudisha, a man inspired that day, and one of the African continent’s all-time great Olympians.
3. Tiki Gelana and Stephen Kiprotich win the London 2012 Olympics marathons
Nobody who saw it will be able to forget the moment Stephen Kiprotich crossed the line to win the Olympic men’s marathon and Uganda’s first medal in forty years, his arms thrust aloft and the Ugandan flag streaming behind him. Kiprotich had simply blown the field away, just as Tiki Gelana had in the women’s event. She clocked up an Olympic record and yet another gold for Ethiopia’s distance runners.
4. Meseret Defar wins Olympic 5000m Gold
This was just a thrilling race, fought between some of the great female distance runners of the modern era. Meseret Defar surged past her great rival Tirunesh Dibaba down the home straight and held off a strong challenge from Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot to win back the Olympic title she’d first won in Athens in 2004. The post-race hug between the two Ethiopians gave us one of our favourite Olympic photos (see at the top of this post). Dibaba also had a great Olympics, retaining the 10,000m title she won in Beijing.
5. Taoufik Makhloufi’s astonishing 1500m Gold at London 2012
Makhloufi won this race in awesome fashion, charging to the front in the closing stages and simply elbowing his more celebrated rivals out of the way before drawing clear to win the race by a distance. Disqualified from the race for “not making a bona fide effort” in the 800m the day before, Makhloufi produced a doctor’s note saying he’d been injured and was reinstated for his favoured 1500m. He didn’t look very injured the next day, and the Algerian surged to a memorable victory.
6. Drogba’s Champions League Final
Didier Drogba won the Champions League this year, thumping in an unstoppable 89th minute equaliser with his head, before slotting the winning penalty in the shootout. At last, this was “Drogba d’Europa“, as Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport had it the next morning. Wrote Laurent Dubois at the time:
There are some matches that end up seeming primarily the vehicle for one person to somehow attain mythical status. The Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern was written, it seems now, purely to allow Didier Drogba a form of poetic catharsis worthy of fiction or film […] Drogba, draped in an Ivory Coast flag, danced around the trophy on the pitch. But it was in the locker-room afterwards, we learned from The Sun, that he celebrated by transforming the trophy into an interlocutor, and his teammates into rapt (or so I imagine; though maybe they were chattering through the whole thing while itching themselves) spectators. It was a fifteen minute speech, during which Drogba excoriated the trophy for having eluded him for so long. He went through the details of the story: losses at Moscow and Barcelona, and all the matches of this campaign that had led to this moment. At one point he transformed the trophy into a sought-after lover who had spurned him for too long: “With the entire squad looking on, Drogba demanded to know why the trophy had been flirting with him for so long yet had always avoided him.” But in the end, he turned the trophy into a religious object, ending “his amazing 15-minute performance by bowing down to the cup and offering a prayer of thanks.”
7. Cabo Verde beat Cameroon
Look out, world. Cabo Verde are heading for their first ever African Nations Cup finals in 2013, after knocking out star-studded Cameroon in qualifying. Cameroon were so desperate after the first leg defeat that they managed to persuade Sammy Eto’o to return for the second game in Yaoundé. But Os Tubarões Azuis were resolute, and will be one of the teams to watch at next month’s competition.
8. Chad le Clos beats Michael Phelps (& Chad le Clos’s dad becomes world famous)
Sometimes it’s more fun watching the parents than the race. South African swimmer Chad le Clos pulled off an astonishing victory over Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly, but it was his dad Bert that everyone was talking about. And Debbie Phelps, whose reaction at the end of the race (she thought her son had won as usual) produced one of the great gifs.
9. Papiss Cissé’s wondergoal vs Chelsea
A goal so good it made hardened journeyman striker Steve Claridge throw up his hands and whimper with fear on live radio. The wow-factor of the goal lies in just how implausible it was, at the moment when Demba Ba chested the ball down for Papiss Demba Cissé (this manœuvre is now known as the “Double Demba”), that Cissé could possibly beat Petr Cech from a position wide out on the left wing by striking the ball with the outside of his right foot. But that’s exactly what he did.
10. South Africa (and Hashim Amla) rules world cricket
South Africa is the world’s number one cricket team after beating England and Australia back to back (on the road), and the star of the team is a bearded guy an Australian TV commentator once called a terrorist.
* Sean Jacobs also contributed to this post.