BATA, Equatorial Guinea, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Herve Renard once broke Ivorian hearts at the African Nations Cup but the French coach was hailed as their hero on Sunday after his Ivory Coast team lifted the continental crown.
They beat Ghana 9-8 in a dramatic shootout following a subdued final that finished goalless after extra time at the Estadio de Bata to win the title after a 23-year wait.
The much-travelled Renard had previously heaped heartache on the Ivorians in the 2012 final under similar circumstances when his Zambia side won a shootout 8-7.
Having lost two of the last three Nations Cup finals on penalties, the Ivory Coast finally triumphed in Bata, winning when Boubacar Barry saved Razak Braimah's spot kick before the Ivorian keeper converted his penalty moments later.
Barry is a key figure in Ivory Coast's Golden Generation, a talented bunch who helped the nation reach consecutive World Cups and made several strong showings in the Nations Cup.
However, despite the presence of the likes of Didier Drogba, the Toure brothers, Yaya and Kolo, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou, they had failed to lift the African title having lost on penalties in the 2010 and 2012 finals.
During the shootout with Ghana on Sunday there were echoes of the Ivorians' 2012 defeat by Renard's Zambia.
"There's something about being here," Renard said, remembering his team's triumph three years ago when the finals were co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
"I don't know exactly what it is, but there has to be something."
In that match Ivory Coast's key striker Drogba missed a penalty and history repeated itself when Wilfried Bony smashed his first spot kick against the bar on Sunday.
Renard's Zambia defeated Ivory Coast following shootout misses from Gervinho and Kolo Toure but, despite the Ivorians missing their first two penalties on Sunday, his new charges overcame their Nations Cup final hoodoo to lift the crown.
Toure was one of the players who converted his penalty in Bata while Gervinho, who also missed three years ago but did not take part in Sunday's shootout having been substituted, could not bear to watch and sat in a chair facing the other way.
"The shootout failure of 2012 was in my mind," he said. "There were so many things going on in my thoughts. After so many finals, so many disappointments, this had to be the one."
Barry, the hero on the night, only started the match following an injury to first-choice keeper Sylvain Gbohouo and came good in the shootout following a jittery display.
As in 2012, when Zambia stopper Kennedy Mweene made crucial penalty saves and scored himself, the much-derided Barry saved Braimah's weak spot kick before shaking off cramp to fire home the winner and send his team into a frenzy of celebration. (Editing by Ken Ferris)