(Reuters) – Top-ranked Ivory Coast lived up to their billing by reaching the African Nations Cup final as the tournament delivered yet another surprise on Wednesday when Zambia also reached Sunday’s deciding match.
Wednesday’s semi-finals dished up only two goals but continue the dramatic theme that has enlivened the continental championship after several docile recent editions.
A breathtaking breakaway goal from Gervinho secure the expected win for Ivory Coast, the highest world-ranked side in African football, over Mali in Libreville but Zambia’s 1-0 victory over Ghana in Bata, Equatorial Guinea added to the list of shocks at the three-week tournament.
Emmanuel Mayuka struck just 12 minutes from time to eliminate the highly fancied Black Stars and extend now to more than 30 years Ghana’s wait for a Nations Cup title.
Zambia scored against the run of play when halftime substitute Mayuka, 21, received the ball with his back to goal. He controlled it with his first touch then swung and sent a shot curling past Adam Kwarasey and in off the foot of the post for his third goal of the tournament.
“When I had to ball, I saw the defender backing off a little bit and then I just said to myself take a shot,” Mayuka told reporters.
“And then I just said to myself thank you God and I knew this was our day.”
It was a fine finish but bettered in quality later by Gervinho, who flicked the ball past Mali defender Ousmane Berthe with a deft back heel and sprinted 30 metres into the penalty area to score just before halftime
“It was my pace that allowed me to get away. It was thrilling to score such an important goal,” the Arsenal forward said.
The Ivory Coast, winners in 1992, are through to their third final, an achievement matched by Zambia who lost in both 1974 and 1994.
Ghana’s bitter defeat revived memories of their exit at the World Cup some 18 months ago.
Asamoah Gyan had an eighth-minute penalty saved by Kennedy Mweene, marking a second vital miss for his country in major competition after his failure to score in the last minute of the World Cup quarter-final against Uruguay in Johannesburg.
Ghana, runners-up at the last Nations Cup two years ago, were expected to win and although they dominated the game failed to take their chances against a jittery Zambia defence.
Their frustration was compounded by the sending-off of Derek Boateng six minutes from time as they went in desperate search of an equaliser.
Zambia defended defiantly, their defenders repeatedly blocking goal bound shots in an enthralling finale.
Ghana’s upset loss added to the shock early exits of Morocco and Senegal at the tournament, co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
The Ivorians were also involved in a testing battle with Mali but took a psychological advantage into the halftime break after Gervinho’s goal.
They were rarely extended in the second half as Mali tired visibly after the exertions of their quarter-final win on Sunday over co-hosts Gabon.
Mali now meet Ghana in a third place playoff game in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea on Saturday. The final is in Libreville on Sunday.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)