Champions Zambia knocked out
NELSPRUIT, South Africa (AFP) – Zambia became the first Africa Cup of Nations’ holders to be knocked out in the first round for 21 years after a nerve-wracking 0-0 draw with Group C table toppers Burkina Faso on Tuesday.
The titleholders’ third straight stalemate left them emulating Algeria, who failed to reach the quarterfinals as reigning champions in 1992.
Zambia missed out after Nigeria nabbed the runners-up spot in Group C courtesy of their 2-0 win over Ethiopia in the match being played simultaneously in Rustenburg.
That left the Nigerians level on five points with Burkina Faso, but in second on goal difference.
As surprise winners of the mini-league, the Burkinabe’s reward is a quarter-final clash with the Group D runners-up, either Togo or Tunisia.
“I told my players this is your chance to write history for Burkina Faso, and they did it – I want to congratulate them,” said coach Paul Put.
“They played really well. We expected Zambia to attack and we worked on our defensive tactics for the past two days.
“It wasn’t pretty but you have to be realistic in football – the most important thing was to qualify.”
Zambia coach Herve Renard said: “It’s better to have won something in your life than always qualify for the quarterfinals, but never win anything.
“Everybody is sad but my players did their maximum, and I’m very proud of them. It’s not the end of the world.
“I loved my team tonight, I can’t play with eight defenders. If there is someone who is responsible (for our elimination) then it’s me, not my players.”
Collins Mbesuma joined Southampton’s Emmanuel Mayuka in the Zambia attack, the Orlando Pirates forward replacing captain Christopher Katongo with talismanic goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene taking over the skipper’s’ armband.
Renard made one more change, bringing in Hichani Himonde for veteran defender Joseph Musonda.
Burkina’s captain Moumouni Dagano was on the bench for the second time, with Benjamin Balima taking the Qatari-based striker’s place.
Daouda Diakite was between the Burkinabe posts with first-choice ‘keeper Abdoulaye Soulama suspended after his red card in the Ethiopia rout, and Florent Rouamba came in for Aristide Bance.
Alain Traore’s deadly left foot, already the author of three goals for Burkina Faso, tested Mweene with a well-struck 30-yard free-kick in the opening seconds.
That unhappily was to be his last impact on the game as in the eighth minute the Burkinabe star was stretchered off with an untimely left thigh injury.
Bance stepped in to replace the stricken Lorient player.
Renard was forced into an unscripted change himself, with Musonda in for the injured Davies Nkausu.
Playing in their orange ‘away’ strip Zambia had a great chance to open the scoring in the 17th minute when a defensive blunder by Mady Panandetiguiri let in Mbesuma, but his shot went straight into the grateful hands of Diakite.
After the restart on the heavily-criticised sandy pitch Renard made a tactical switch, bringing on attack-minded Mulenga Mukaka for Isaac Chansa.
Approaching the hour, Mbesuma’s header from a corner went flying over the crossbar as Zambia began to put the Burkinabe backline under pressure.
Hard as they tried Zambia could not find the all-important goal, leaving them with a humiliating early trip back home, and Burkina Faso three games away from the title.