Defending champions Zambia exited the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) after playing to a goalless draw against Burkina Faso in a Group C clash in Nelspruit on Tuesday night. Nigeria slotted two penalties to beat Ethiopia 2-0 in Rustenburg, which secured them a spot in the quarterfinals alongside the Burkinabe.
Like Morocco in Group A, the Zambians found that three draws were not enough to move on. On the night, they were the better team, but Burkina Faso defended resolutely and their efforts were aided by an awful looking pitch at the Mbombela Stadium. It required players to take extra time when receiving the ball to control it before passing. It was bumpy, bouncy, patchy and disappointing.
The many Zambian fans were left stunned by their team's early exit. They sat stony-faced, quiet, shocked that their dream of a second Afcon title had ended so soon. It had been 21 years since a defending champion had failed to progress beyond the group stages. In 1992 Algeria fell short after capturing the title two years earlier.
'Our maximum effort'
Chipolopolo coach Hervé Renaud was reflective in his comments after the game, saying: "It is better to have won something in your life. Today we put in our maximum effort and tried our best, but unfortunately we did not manage to win.
"The players were playing well so let's not judge them or me for that matter because what's done is done and we cannot change anything. So in general l am pleased that we played well. The last Afcon we were the winners, but now there will be a new winner and that is football for you."
For Burkina Faso, the group winners, moving on to the last eight was a huge achievement. Coach Paul Put was thrilled with the win, which came at a cost, with star striker Alain Traoré being stretchered off early in the contest after pulling up with an injury. "It was a tactical victory and a great victory that allowed us to qualify. Many congratulations to my players, who played really well disciplined," he said.
"We knew that Zambia had nothing to lose. We waited for their attacks - something we have been working on the last two days - how to defend.
'The greatest achievement'
He added: "The Zambians could not break us and use their chances. This is the greatest achievement of Burkina because the last time Burkina reached the quarter-finals was at home, and it was a long time ago (1998.)"
The Stallions' captain Charles Kabore commented: "Zambia were the better team and they are the defending champion, so when you consider this, it is a pleasing result indeed."
Nigeria needed two late penalties by Victor Moses, who was the man fouled on both occasions, to see off Ethiopia. "This victory is for all Nigerians, wherever they are in the world," said Nigeria's coach Stephen Keshi after the game.
"Sunday Mba was outstanding in midfield and his introduction is part of my plan to build the team around young players and experienced players like Joseph Yobo, Victor Enyeama and John Obi Mikel."
In Nelspruit, Traoré tested Kennedy Mweene, in the Zambian goal, with an early free kick that bounced high, forcing the goalkeeper to punch clear where his defenders managed to pick up the ball. Not long after that, Traoré's match was over.
Collins Mbesuma had an excellent opportunity to put Chipolopolo in front after 17 minutes when Chisamba Lungu intercepted a poor clearance and slid the ball across goal to the striker. He had the whole goal in front of him, but fired straight at the keeper.
Too little angle
Rainford Kalaba sneaked in unmarked at the back post right on half-time, but had too little angle to play with and Daouda Diakite was able to stop his header.
Just before the hour-mark, Mbesuma got onto the end of a corner, but under pressure from a defender his powerful header flew over the crossbar.
With time running out, Zambia ratcheted up the pressure, but still the Stallions stood firm. On a few occasions they were forced to hack the ball away as it ricocheted dangerously around inside their box. Then, five minutes after the 90th minute, the referee blew the final whistle.
Emmanuel Mayuka was a livewire on attack for Zambia, while Chisambu Langa starred on the defensive end and Stophira Sunzu excelled in the midfield.
Djakaridja Kone did a superb job at the centre of Burkina Faso's resolute defence, while Paul Koulibaly marshalled the midfield well. Up front, Jonathan Pitroipa showed plenty of hustle despite missing Traoré for all but the first seven minutes.
At the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, Nigeria were made to work hard for their 2-0 win over Ethiopia, with the Super Eagles' two goals coming in the last 11 minutes of the contest.
Ikechukwu Uche managed a powerful header on goal from a Moses corner in the 35th minute, but goalkeeper Sisay Bancha managed to grab it at the second attempt.
Saladine Said managed to spring Nigeria's offside trap shortly after that, but took too long to get a shot off and was blocked by a diving defender.
Super Eagles' defender Kenneth Omeruo had a chance from close range after he picked up a mishit shot. He struck the ball on the turn, but his effort was too high and it passed harmlessly over the Ethiopian goal.
When Nigeria had a looping header cleared off the line by a defender, they must have wondered where the breakthrough would come from, or whether it would come at all.
Mba tested Bancha with a nasty, stinging drive that bounced just in front of the goalkeeper. He did well to block the shot, then gather the ball.
Then, in the 78th minute, Victor Moses went down on the edge of the area from a poor, lunging tackle by Alula Girma, which earned the defender a yellow card and the Super Eagles a penalty. Moses duly slotted it, low and left of the goalkeeper.
Two minutes later, the Walia Antelopes almost drew level, but Nigeria net-minder Victor Enyeama pulled off a fine, reflex save to his right to keep the Ethiopians off the scoreboard.
Nigeria came back, forcing a superb save out of Bancha, and Moses then got in the way of a shot off of Bancha's parried save. A couple of minutes later, however, he forced Bancha into a mistimed challenge. Down went Moses and off went Bancha after picking up a second yellow card.
Addis-Hintsa had to face the penalty in place of Bancha, but Moses found the bottom right hand corner and Nigeria were assured of a place in the next round.
Their reward was a place in the last eight against Cote d'Ivoire, who have already wrapped up top spot in Group D. Burkina Faso will take on either Togo or Tunisia.