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Learn English Through Football Podcast: Zombie Football

This week’s football language podcast looks back at the 2023 African Nations Cup tournament in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and we’ll be looking at the phrase ‘Zombie Football‘. And don’t forget that you can also check out our glossary of footballing phrases here and visit our site to access all our previous posts and podcasts. If you have any suggestions or questions then you can contact us at

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Learn English Through Football Podcast: Zombie Football

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DF: Hello again everyone and welcome to – the football-language podcast for learners and teachers of English. My name is Damian and I am here in a other wet and cold London and of course the other member of the Languagecaster team is Damon who is based in Tokyo in Japan. I hope you are all well and enjoying lots of football.

Now recently I watched the final of the 2023 AFCON where host nation Côte d’Ivoire won their third African title – and  congratulations to them. In the final, they came back after going a goal down in the first half against Nigeria but they staged a second half comeback to win the title 2-1 – a remarkable turnaround as they had looked ‘dead’ in the group stages after being beaten twice – they came back from the dead to win the tournament. And so on this football-language podcast we are going to take a look at a phrase that was used to describe the Côte d’Ivoire victory in the AFCONZombie Football.

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Zombie Football

Yes, that message was in Swahili – drop us a line if you want to add a stinger in any language that says ‘you are listening to Languagecaster’ at

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Now, in today’s show we are going to look back at both the recent [2023] AFCON and the Asian Cup because remarkably the word ‘ Zombie’ featured in both tournaments. A zombie is something that is an undead being  – it seems to be dead but then keeps coming back to life (maybe you have seen examples on TV series or  in horror films?). In the two recent continental tournaments (that’s AFCON and the Asian Cup), the word ‘zombie‘ was used to describe both the Côte d’Ivoire and the South Korean teams as they made their way through the tournaments in dramatic fashion. In the first example, the Côte d’Ivoire side looked to have been down and out of the tournament after the group stages as they had lost twice – including a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea. But they kept coming back – they refused to be knocked out. The Korean side also had a similar run scoring so many late goals in games – four times in added time – in the Asian Cup that their style of football was given the name ‘Zombie football’. However, unfortunately for them  they were unable to maintain this comeback-run to the final after they were shocked by Jordan in the semi-final.

AFCON hosts Côte d’Ivoire lost twice in the group stage and only made it to the knock-out stage after finishing as one of the best third-placed teams – it would have been a terrible blow for the competition if the hosts had had to leave early. But they made it by the skin of their teeth – they scraped through into the last 16. There, they faced holders and favourites Senegal but despite going a goal down they scored a late equaliser and eventually won on penalties to qualify for the quarter finals. People started to believe that their name was on the trophy – their come back from the dead performances meant they were locally known as, ‘Les Revenants’Zombies – as they could not be knocked out of the tournament! A last-minute equaliser in normal time and then in the final minute of extra time saw the hosts defeat Mali in the last eight and then they beat DR Congo in the semi final to set up a final against the powerhouse of Nigeria in the final. Of course, they then went a goal down in the first half but they turned the final around  to win 2-1 and claim their third African title with a goal from Sébastien Haller in the second half. A remarkable story from the hosts.

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Let’s have a look at some examples from how the media reported on Zombie football:

  1. Zombie football’ keeps South Korea in hunt for elusive Asian Cup crown ( February 6 2024). This one is from The Guardian newspaper and describes how South Korea kept getting late goals to progress to the next round. The word ‘elusive‘ means that something is difficult to get – the Asian Cup title had been elusive for the Koreans as they had not won it for over 60 years. Another example from the same paper also talks about this:
  2. It has been labelled ‘zombie football’ because South Korea have scored four goals in second-half added time in five Asian Cup games. ( February 6 2024). The word ‘labelled’ here is similar to the word ‘called’; so it has been called ‘zombie football‘.
  3. The way they’ve come back from the dead at each stage of the competition has seen them dubbed the Zombie Elephants ( Feb 6 2024). In this example from the Independent newspaper, the Ivory Coast team were nicknamed (or dubbed or labelled or called) the Zombie Elephants – because their regular nickname is the Elephants and so they became the ‘Zombie Elephants‘ after all their dramatic comebacks.
  4. South Korea’s stylings had been christened ‘zombie football‘ by its supporters. It was a reference to their ability to, somehow, bring themselves back to life and find a way to keep moving onward (ESPN February 2024). Here the ESPN report uses another term for called or dubbed: ‘christened’ which suggests that this was the first time this term had been used to describe the Korean side.

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Now, if you have any questions or comments then drop us an email at and you can also look out for us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We also have a football-language forum where you can ask and answer any questions you have on the language of football. We’ve recently had a question on the phrase ‘cagey‘ – a cagey performance is one where a team is not too adventurous; they are quite defensive. We also recently got some interesting comments on X on the difference between the romance of the cup and the magic of the cup when we looked at some of the language from the FA Cup here in England .

And don’t forget to subscribe to our football-language podcast by coming along to

Stinger: You are listening to (in Korean).


DF: Yes, you are listening to Languagecaster and that message was from a Korean listener. Don’t forget there’s a transcript for this short podcast and there’s lots of vocabulary support too. We explain lots of the meanings of these words in the transcript, which you can access by coming along to our site.

Let us know if you hear any of the words from today’s show in any language while watching football over the next week or two. Can you think of a team who have been described as Zombies? And of course drop us a line if you come across any interesting football language or if you have any football-language questions. And we’ll see you all again soon – enjoy all the football. Bye bye!

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Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football

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