Substitute Emmanuel Mayuka scored 12 minutes from time to give Zambia a shock 1-0 win over four-time champions Ghana on Wednesday and a place in the Africa Cup of Nations final.
The goal came against the run of play with Isaac Chansa setting up the 20-year-old striker, whose shot from outside the penalty area flew past goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey into the corner of the net.
Zambia now go to Libreville for an emotional showdown with Côte d’Ivoire or Mali Sunday as it was off the Gabon coast that a plane carrying the 1993 squad plunged into the Atlantic killing all 25 players and officials on board.
It will be the third final appearance by the Copper Bullets after losing to Zaire after a replay in 1974 and to Nigeria 20 years later with a team built within 12 months after the tragedy.
Midfielder Derek Boateng was sent off seven minutes from time after a second booking to leave Ghana battling on with 10 men in a tense finish as Zambia clung to the slender advantage.
Ghana made three changes from the team that edged Tunisia in a bruising last-eight clash three days ago with Lee Addy, Derek Boateng and Jordan Ayew replacing Alhassan Masawudu, injured Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Sulley Muntari.
Addy was one of only two outfield players in the 23-man squad who had taken no part in the previous four matches while Boateng made his first start and Ayew his second.
After making only one change in their previous four outings, Zambia coach Herve Renard dropped Chisamba Lungu and Mayuka from the side that convincingly defeated Sudan and in came Francis Kasonde and James Chamanga.
It was a familiar scene at the 35 000-seat Estadio de Bata in this port city with row after row of empty red and blue seats, and many who did turn up raced to the back rows for shelter from heavy pre-match rain.
Ghana won two and Zambia one of three Cup of Nations clashes between the countries with the last 16 years ago in Johannesburg when the Copper Bullets scored the lone goal of a third place play-off.
The Black Stars were favourites this time and the early exchanges backed that view with the four-time champions squandering a great chance to take an early lead when Asamoah Gyan failed to convert a penalty.
Awarded for a foul on Kwadwo Asamoah by Davies Nkausu, Gyan did not strike the spot kick with great power and Kennedy Mweene guessed correctly, dived to his left and pushed the ball away with his left hand.
Not at their sharpest
Gyan, whose three goals were instrumental in Ghana reaching the 2010 final, was not at his sharpest and shot timidly at Mweene soon after when put through by Andre Ayew.
Jordan Ayew, younger brother of Andre and son of Ghana legendy Abedi “Pele” Ayew, was another culprit when he broke free inside the box but failed to connect with a delicate chip over the defence.
With the Black Stars doing most of the pressing, scoring chances for the Copper Bullets were few and far between although captain Christopher Katongo should have done better than blaze wide when set up by Rainford Kalaba.
Renard had a change of mind at half-time regarding his lone striker and introduced Mayuka for Chamanga, hoping the young Switzerland-based star could add to two goals early in the tournament.
But the goalmouth action continued to be largely at the end guarded by Mweene, who had to get down smartly when Jordan Ayew unleashed a low, close-range shot.
Ghana looked more likely to break the deadlock as the second half wore on and they suffered a blow when injury-prone captain John Mensah was forced to retire with Isaac Vorsah coming on. — AFP