Zambia (3) – (0) Sudan [Estadio de Bata]
Ivory Coast (3) – (0) Equitorial Guinea [Nuevo Estadio de Malabo]
De La Soul once sang, “…three, that’s the magic number…” and so it proved to be for Zambia and Ivory Coast tonight as my predictions to progress indeed made it through to the Semi-Finals.
In the opening game of the evening at the Estadio de Bata, Zambia met Sudan. Zambia dominated from the off and were 1-0 up within the opening fifteen minutes. Kalaba swung in a Zambian free-kick from the wing and as the Sudanese defence stopped, Sunzu (sporting a rather fine mohican) headed in. Now depending whether you are part of the goalkeeping union or not, you would either say that Sudan custodian Akram was left badly exposed by his defence and had no chance with the header, or his challenge at punching away the incoming ball into the box was too little too late. Whatever you point of view, it added more fuel to the fire in the debate about the standards of goalkeeping in this competition. Sudan struggled to get into the first-half and any chance of establishing any rhythm was hindered by two enforced substitutions due to injury as Yousif Ela Eldin and Hamid Nazar were replaced. Overall, Zambia deserved their half-time lead. Sudan however dominated the opening twenty minutes of the second half with good chances created for Eltaib and Ahmed Khalifa. They were still in the match on 66 minutes, but then threw the game away. Kalaba broke into the Sudan penalty area and was being forced wide, when inexplicably, cynically and crudely, Saif Eldin Ali Idris hacked the Zambian down. A penalty was awarded and Sudan were down to ten men. Akram did well to save the spot-kick, but the rebound fell kindly to skipper Christopher Katongo who swept it in and put the game out of reach of Sudan. The result was put beyond doubt on 86 minutes, as James Chamanga curled in a beauty to make it 3-0. Undoubtedly, the turning point was the sending off and penalty, as it was still only 1-0 with about 25 minutes still to play. However, Zambia were the better team and are emerging as a dark horse in the tournament.
In the second game of the night the first-half was very much about The Elephants captain Didier Drogba. After thirty minutes (in which Ivory Coast had dominated), a penalty was awarded after Didier Zokora was fouled. Drogba stepped up, but his effort was well saved by Emmanuel-Danilo. However, within six minutes Drogba redeemed himself. Rui Fernando Gomez make a hash of controlling the ball, Drogba pounced, drove into the box and after cutting inside two defenders squeezed a shot past Danilo; 1-0 and Ivory Coast had their half-time lead. As in their previous fixtures, The Elephants seemed content to absorb the pressure in the opening of the second-half and play on the counter. The killer blow came with twenty minutes remaining. Yaya Toure fired in a free-kick and Drogba placed a bullet header into the net for his and The Elephants second. If that finish wasn’t impressive enough, then with just ten minutes to go, Yaya Toure scored with an absolutely stunning curling free-kick and clinch a 3-0 win. The Elephants through and yet to concede a goal – ominous for the other teams. Equatorial Guinea did their country proud and they will no doubt rise up the CAF and FIFA rankings after this showing.
The great shame about the games tonight were the attendance figures, with a reported crowd of only 200 in Bata and surprisingly in the capital Malabo, the stadium was not full even for home team Equatorial Guinea, with a reported crowd of 12,500 in the 15,000 capacity stadium. When the CAF organising committee review this tournament, the issue of attendance figures will surely be on the agenda.
Tomorrow the remaining two Quarter-Finals take place with the first involving co-hosts Gabon up against Mali in Libreville and the second with Ghana playing Tunisia in Franceville. Gabon looked an accomplished side in winning their three group games with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang the star attacking force for The Panthers. Mali who face Gabon, clinched their Quarter-Final berth after coming from behind in their last game to beat Botswana. For me, Gabon will have too much for The Eagles. In the later game, Ghana take on Tunisia. Ghana like Ivory Coast, haven’t really got into top-gear, but did enough to top their group. Their four goals to date have been scored by four different players, which shows that they have a number of options in that department. Tunisia have yet to keep a clean-sheet in the tournament and will for me struggle to contain The Black Stars. G-force tomorrow then, with Gabon and Ghana to go through.