Zambia reached the African Nations Cup quarter-finals as a dramatic final day in Group D saw Gabon – top before kick-off – miss out on qualification. This win for Zambia meant that they finished top of Group D ahead of Cameroon who only just scraped through.
Goals from Rainford Kalaba and James Chamanga earned Herve Renard’s side a deserved victory in Benguela despite substitute Fabrice Do Marcolino’s late consolation.
But it came at a price, with both Kabala and centre-half Kampamba Chintu collecting bookings which rule them out of the last eight clash.
Gabon goalkeeper Didier Ovono, impressive earlier in the group, made an unconvincing early save from Felix Katongo’s long-range drive and an even better chance followed as James Chamanga laid off Katongo’s low cross to Jacob Mulenga.
The forward had scored in both the draw with Tunisia and the defeat to Cameroon, but blazed into the side-netting on this occasion.
Daniel Cousin’s mis-hit had to be hacked clear by Stophira Sunzu after a rare moment of panic for the Chipolopolo defence, but they were soon back on the attack and should have taken the lead.
A superb passing move between Mulenga, Christopher Katongo and Kalaba set up Felix Katongo, but he mis-kicked the ball woefully wide.
Kalaba failed to make contact after Felix Katongo cleverly rolled a free-kick to his feet, but he made amends after 28 minutes to give Zambia the lead.
Running onto a delightful through-ball from Felix Katongo, he clipped the ball neatly beyond Ovono to score.
Gabon sought a response, and only Chintu’s fine interception prevented Cousin’s through-ball reaching Roguy Meye.
But it was Zambia who went close to a second as Katongo’s free-kick was headed inches wide of goal by Sunzu.
Kalaba fired a free-kick over the bar early in the second half but Zambia soon got their second goal.
Chamanga tapping home into the net in the 62nd minute following an excellent turn and low cross from Mulenga.
Ovono saved well as Mulenga was put in behind the offside trap but finished weakly, and Do Marcolino then pulled back a goal for Gabon to give his side a glimmer of hope.
The striker, who had only been on the pitch five minutes, was picked out in space inside the box and, though he struggled to control the ball, he found the net via an enormous deflection off youngster Emmanuel Mbola.
Relentless Gabonese pressure followed in the final seven minutes, but Do Marcolino smashed a free-kick into the wall and Pierre Aubameyang saw another deflected over as Zambia hung on through four agonising minutes of stoppage time.
Cameroon’s 2-2 draw with Tunisia left the Indomitable Lions, Zambia and Gabon level on points, head-to-head record and goal difference but the Black Panthers missed out on goals scored.
Zambia have reached coach Herve Renard’s target of the quarter finals and their reward is a mouthwatering clash against Nigeria.
Ebang Ovono, Georges Ambourouet, Bruno Ecuele, Moise Brou, Rodrigue Moundounga, Alain Djissikadie, Zita Mbanangoye, Ulrich Kessany, Eric Mouloungui, Daniel Cousin, Roguy Meye
Coach: Alain Giresse
Kennedy Mweene, Emmanuel Mbola, Stoppila Sunzu, Joseph Musonda, Chintu Kampamba, Thomas Nyirenda, Felix Katongo, Chris Katongo, Rainford Kalaba, Jacob Mulenga, James Chamanga
Coach: Herve Renard
Referee: Mohamed Benouza (ALG)
Attendance : 5000