African champs crash out
MBOMBELA – Defending champions Zambia crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations today at the Nelspruit’s Mbombela Stadium after a goalless draw with Burkina Faso, who progressed to the quarter-finals.
Chipolopolo went into the game level on points with Nigeria, who went through to the last eight after a 2-0 win over Ethiopia in the other Group C game.
Zambia will rue weak efforts from Collins Mbesuma and Rainford Kalaba in a poor game against Burkina Faso.
Clifford Mulenga also missed a half-chance late as Zambia limped out.
It is the first time the reigning champions have gone out in the group stage since Algeria in 1990, when there were four groups of three teams.
Zambia’s one-year reign as champions is the shortest in the history of the tournament after the competition was switched to odd years after the 2012 edition
But Zambia deserved no more than they got as they failed to produce anything like the form that took them to the title last year – even though they leave South Africa unbeaten after three draws.
Meanwhile Nigeria owed their qualification for the next round to two late Victor Moses penalties.
Moses, 22, opened the scoring from the spot after he was fouled by defender Alula Girma with 10 minutes to go.
The winger earned the second penalty when he was brought down by goalkeeper Sisay Bancha, who was sent off.
If Nigeria had gone out of the Africa Cup of Nations, it would have been the first time since 1982 they had not made the quarter-finals
If Moses had not scored they would have lost a quarter-final spot to Zambia due to a worse disciplinary record.
Holders Zambia and Nigeria had come into their last round of group fixtures level on points and with an equal goal difference after they drew both their opening games 1-1.
Before Moses’ intervention, his side had been set for an early trip home as they had collected more yellow cards.
Aware of the potential for that scenario, the Super Eagles began in Rustenberg with an intent absent in the tournament so far.
Defender Efe Ambrose – recalled to the team after missing out against Zambia through suspension – headed a Moses free-kick over the crossbar when well positioned, before Bancha was alert to stop Ikechukwu Uche reaching an incisive John Obi Mikel through-ball.
Some more sharp play from Nigeria saw another chance go to waste when a selfless cut-back from Uche was blazed well over by rampaging left-back Elderson Echiejile.
While struggling to retain possession in their usual manner, Ethiopia did sporadically threaten with their set-piece delivery.
Nigeria head coach Stephen Keshi had decided not to select fit-again captain Joseph Yobo, and in the 32-year-old’s absence, the Super Eagles struggled to convincingly deal with high balls played into their penalty area.
Saladin Seid headed one Ethiopia corner over, while a number of other crosses caused panic at the back for Nigeria. (BBC)