AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS: ZAMBIA BOOK QUARTER-FINAL SLOT
By Piers Edwards
Zambia captain Chris Katongo (with white armband) won the game with his low 67th-minute strike
Zambia booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations by beating co-hosts Equatorial Guinea 1-0 to top Group A.
Captain Chris Katongo fired home from the edge of the box after 67 minutes to settle a game of few chances.
The win means they may avoid Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals, with the favourites set to win Group B.
It was the co-hosts' first loss of the campaign and also a first under coach Gilson Paulo.
Thanks to opening wins over both Libya and Senegal, the National Lightning started this game as Group A leaders but were undone by Katongo's right-footed strike midway through the second half.
The goal means the Chipolopolo, who have reached consecutive Nations Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 1996, will move to Bata ahead of their quarter-final on Saturday, 4 February.
The Equatoguineans, meanwhile, will stay in their capital Malabo, where they will meet the Ivorians on Saturday should the latter avoid defeat against Angola on Monday night.
On a hot and humid afternoon, just over 15,000 fans squeezed into the Nuevo Estadio de Malabo, with other supporters content to gather outside in a bid to savour some Nations Cup fever.
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Our strategy was to go into the second round. Whoever we meet it's not our problem. We have to concentrate on our own tactics and what the coach wants us to do
Katongo was immediately in the thick of things, slashing wide from 25 yards before Emmanuel Mayuka, who had scored in both Zambia's earlier games, flicked a header over.
Despite the urgings of the vociferous home crowd, the Zambians continued to force the play with Equatorial Guinea goalkeeper Danilo saving smartly from a powerful Katongo strike after 35 minutes.
The co-hosts were struggling to threaten but just before the break, Juvenal fed striker Ivan Bolado who ghosted clear and looked set to open the scoring until keeper Kennedy Mweene's alert intervention.
Coach Herve Renard's men started the second half the stronger, as Hichani Himoonde's hammered free-kick inside the box was repelled by some brave defending.
In a somewhat lacklustre game, with Equatorial Guinea already through and Zambia needing just a draw to reach the quarter-finals, Katongo's goal proved a rare highlight.
It was simplicity itself as he collected a short throw-in near the touchline before cutting across the corner of the penalty area and striking a low 18-yarder that beat Danilo at his right-hand post.
For the first time in the tournament, Equatorial Guinea were behind and they came close to an instant equaliser when captain Juvenal struck a fine free-kick that curled millimetres wide of Mweene's post.
That was as good as it got and even though Libya managed to beat hapless Senegal in the day's other group game in Bata, both teams playing in Malabo were comfortably through.
Zambia finished on top of Group A with seven points, one more than Equatorial Guinea, with Libya collecting four points and the Senegalese sent home without a point.