Nelspruit — Burkina Faso added to the shocks at the African Nations Cup on Tuesday by eliminating holders Zambia at the end of a ferocious tussle at Nelspruit’s Mbombela Stadium.
The goalless draw means that Burkina Faso finished top of the group, ahead of Nigeria with Zambia in third place. It was a bitter blow for the champions but a “historic night” for the Burkinabe, according to their coach Paul Put.
A stout defensive performance held at bay all that an increasingly-desperate Zambia could throw at them and, combined with Nigeria’s win over Ethiopia in Rustenburg, means the champions go tumbling out.
Zambia had to go for the win and threw everything forward to force a breakthrough. They were restricted to a single real chance in the 17th minute, squandered by Collins Mbesuma. A pass from Chisamba Lungu was stepped over by Emmanuel Mayuka to allow Mbesuma clear sight on goal but he hit it straight at a grateful goalkeeper.
There were many other half chances and corner opportunities but none that forced Daouda Diakite into any saves, even after central defenders Stopilla Sunzu and Hichani Himoonde joined three strikers upfront to create a siege on the Burkina goal.
Zambia knew in the final 10 minutes that they had to score and their increasing desperation saw them hurry half chances while the Burkinabe defended for all they were worth.
Burkina’s "Etalons" might have snuck a goal in the last minute on the counterattack when Jonathan Pitroipa just missed stretching home a cross from Charles Kabore, but for the small crowd there was no tempo to enjoy as the match turned into a bruising battle.
Burkina Faso’s celebrations were tempered by an early injury for Alain Traore, top scorer at the tournament, who went off with a knee injury at the 11th minute. His future participation in the tournament is not clear.
Burkina Faso, outsiders coming into the tournament, now play either Togo or Tunisia in the quarter-final on Sunday, ensuring at least one outsider in next week’s semi-finals.
It is the first time since 1998 - and only the second time ever - that they have reached the last eight. Zambia are the first holders eliminated at the first stage since Algeria in 1992.