Burkinabe, Nigeria in; Zambia out
Defending champions Zambia were knocked out as Chelsea star Victor Moses lifted Nigeria into the quarterfinals with unheralded Burkina Faso joining them at the Africa Cup of Nations on Tuesday.
Group C finished in thrilling fashion with Moses converting two late penalties to beat Ethiopia 2-0 and put Nigeria into second place behind surprise table-toppers Burkina Faso.
While this duo were celebrating progress to the knockout stage, Zambia were packing their bags after becoming the first title-holders since Algeria in 1992 to suffer a first-round exit.
The 2012 heroes were left stranded in third place after three successive stalemates, Herve Renard’s side eliminated after a closing goalless draw in Nelspruit against the Burkinabe.
Coached by Belgian Paul Put, Burkina Faso’s defence held firm in a tense, tactical affair as Zambia struggled to convert possession for the win they so badly needed.
With 11 minutes remaining Zambia were, however, still on course to pip Nigeria for the runners-up spot.
With identical points, goal difference and goals scored, they would have gone through by dint of fewer yellow and red cards than Nigeria.
That was before Moses popped up to down Ethiopia in the simultaneous match in north-western mining town Rustenburg.
His team will face the winner of Wednesday’s Group D game between Togo and Tunisia in Nelspruit, while Ethiopia and Zambia head for the airport.
Zambia coach Herve Renard cut a dignified figure at the post-match press conference.
The only low point on an otherwise memorable night for Burkina Faso was the sight of star Alain Traore – leading scorer in the competition with three goals – being stretchered off clutching his left thigh in the opening minutes.
Captain Charles Kabore said the team had played in memory of goalkeeper Abdoulaye Soulama’s father, who died in a road accident last week.