For decades to come, the sporting year of 2012 will be looked back on in a nostalgic manner; Spain secured their third consecutive international football title, Europe mounted a sensational comeback in the Ryder Cup and, of course, there was the magic of the Olympics at London 2012.
But despite all that, the most astounding sporting moment of the year arguably came in the Gabonese capital of Libreville, where Emmanuel Mayuka and his Zambia teammates made Africa Cup of Nations history.
The rank outsiders for the tournament embarked on a magical run to the final where, against all odds, they held massive favourites Ivory Coast to a stalemate before beating the Elephants in a penalty shootout to lift the trophy.
The most unlikely of victories was made even more poignant by the fact that the entire Zambian team had been killed in an air crash 19 years before – only a short distance away from where they lifted silverware in 2012.
Striker Mayuka finished top scorer at last year’s tournament and started five out of Zambia’s six matches – the exception being the semi-final victory over Ghana. He emerged as a substitute in that game and scored a late winning goal to spark frenzied celebrations among over 14m Zambians.
Mayuka’s impressive performances in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea helped earn him a move to the Premier League last summer. Nigel Adkins and Southampton took a risk on the lightning-quick forward and lured him to the south coast from Swiss side BSC Young Boys, where he had scored 10 goals in the 2011/12 campaign.
Six months into his Premier League career, the 21-year-old has found chances to impress hard to come by. In a squad which has a plethora of attacking talent, Mayuka has been restricted to eight Saints appearances so far. He has started just one of those – the 3-0 League Cup defeat to Leeds – and has only come off the bench once since early November.
However time is on Mayuka’s side. Still only 21, it is sometimes hard to forget that he is so young. Having signed for Maccabi Tel Aviv at only 18-years-old, Mayuka has already accumulated plenty of experience for such a young man. Indeed at Young Boys, he was given the unenviable task of filling Seydou Doumbia’s scoring boots after the Ivorian moved to CSKA Moscow and did so to great acclaim.
The second Africa Cup of Nations in as many years has come around at a great time for Mayuka. If he can catch the eye again, he will return to the forefront of Adkins’ plans. His return to England will happen just in time to help Southampton in their battle against relegation, and if he can contribute to a great escape as well as beat the odds with Zambia again, 2013 could even beat Mayuka’s tremendous 2012.
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