Côte d’Ivoire and Zambia cruise into Afcon semifinals

Zambia and Côte d’Ivoire reached the African Cup of Nations semifinals with 3-0 wins on Saturday to knock out two gutsy underdogs.

Côte d’Ivoire ended the dream of co-host Equatorial Guinea, while Zambia knocked out Sudan’s team of home-based players to make the last four for the first time in 16 years.

Zambia will face either Ghana or Tunisia, while Côte d’Ivoire awaits the winner of the Gabon-Mali match on Sunday.

Côte d’Ivoire captain Didier Drogba scored his team’s two opening goals in the 36th and 69th minutes to make amends for a 29th-minute penalty miss, and Yaya Toure fired a free kick in the 80th to put the cup-favorite through in Malabo.

Goals from Stophira Sunzu, Christopher Katongo and James Chamanga helped Zambia overwhelm 10-man Sudan in Bata.

“My teammates gave me a lot of encouragement after missing the penalty and I had to score for them,” Drogba said. “I owed it to them.”

The teams stood for a minute’s silence before each quarterfinal in memory of the more than 70 people killed at a football match in Egypt this week. Although Egypt did not qualify for the tournament, a handful of Egyptian fans displayed a flag with the words, “Miss you Egypt you still No. 1” at the Nuevo Estadio de Malabo.

Tunisia wants to wear black armbands in its quarterfinal against Ghana at Stade de Franceville on Sunday as a mark of respect, although it was unclear if the tournament organiser, the Confederation of African Football, would permit the gesture.

Bowing out
Equatorial Guinea never really threatened Côte d’Ivoire’s cast of Europe-based stars, but bowed out of the tournament with honour after making a mockery of its lowly ranking to reach the knockout stage.

“I’m satisfied with the work of my team today, but I’m not happy with the defeat,” coach Gilson Paulo said. “I knew it was going to be a very difficult game. We were playing a very technical team with a lot of experience.”

After crowd troubles outside the stadium before previous matches, police and soldiers again mounted a heavy security operation before the game in Malabo.

Armed riot police with body armour set up at least five different checkpoints and the stadium was still not quite full at kickoff, with fans dribbling in the gates throughout the first half.

A sign of how important the match was to the Equatorial Guinea players came as the crowd joined in a rousing rendition of the national anthem. Midfielder Ben Konate and defender Fousseny Kamissoko both appeared to have tears in their eyes as they sang along.

Equatorial Guinea president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has ruled the tiny west African nation since a 1979 coup, watched from a glass-fronted box.

The home side, ranked 133 places below Côte d’Ivoire, knocked out Libya and Senegal to reach the quarterfinals from Group A with a tight defense forming the base for rapid counterattacks.

Clinical finish
When Clementino saved Drogba’s penalty, the co-host looked capable of springing another shock, but the Côte d’Ivoire captain responded almost immediately with a clinical finish to give his side the lead after a defensive error.

Drogba nodded a header into the net from Yaya Toure’s free kick in the second half to give Côte d’Ivoire a cushion and prompt many home fans to leave the stadium.

“I was disappointed with the people in Malabo because of that,” Equatorial Guinea defender David Alvarez said. “They started to leave instead of giving the team more encouragement.”

Yaya Toure swerved a free kick into the top corner in the 81st minute to seal the victory.

“We have fantastic players and fantastic strikers, but we have to fight to make sure we win this competition,” Toure said.

In the Estadio de Bata, Sunzu headed in from a free kick in the 15th minute for Zambia against Sudan, and Katongo made it 2-0 in the 66th when he scored from a rebound after his penalty was saved.

Sudan made the knockout stage for the first time in 42 years, but was outclassed by an impressive Zambia team.

James Chamanga came off the bench to seal Zambia’s dominance in the 86th with a curling shot from the edge of the area that went in off the post.

Sudan’s hopes of an upset at a near-deserted stadium slipped away when defender Saifeldin Ali Idris was sent off in the 65th for a reckless foul on Rainford Kalaba that led to Katongo’s spot kick.

Chamanga’s late goal was the pick of the three as he controlled neatly and sent a curling right-footed effort toward the far corner that was too good for goalkeeper Akram El Hadi Salem. — AP

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