MALABO, Equatorial Guinea – Zambia beat already-qualified Equatorial Guinea 1-0 in the African Cup of Nations on Sunday to snatch first place in Group A and join the co-host in the quarterfinals.
Christopher Katongo scored the winning goal in the 67th minute at the Nuevo Estadio de Malabo as Equatorial Guinea’s unexpected run of two opening victories came to an end as it was knocked off top spot.
“Our strategy was to go into the second round,” Katongo said. “Whoever we meet it’s not our problem. We have to concentrate on our own tactics and what the coach wants us to do.”
The result meant unbeaten Zambia won the group, while Equatorial Guinea finished in second place and will face a likely meeting with cup favourite Ivory Coast in the last eight.
The scoreline also eliminated Libya despite its surprise 2-1 win against Senegal. Libya needed to win and Equatorial Guinea to beat Zambia to have any chance of progressing.
“Maybe it’s a surprise for some people but we came to finish first,” Zambia coach Herve Renard said. “Maybe it was a difficult target but the players respected everything perfectly today.”
Renard took Zambia to the quarterfinals of the African Cup in 2010 and his animated attitude on the touchline was evidence of his attempts to get his tactics across to the team.
“If you let the Zambia players, they will attack with 10 players,” said the charismatic Renard, who arrived at his post-match news conference wearing a Zambia scarf despite the hot and humid weather. “They love to play all the time so you have to … make sure they stay organized.”
Zambia finished with seven points after two wins and a draw, a point ahead of Equatorial Guinea. Ivory Coast is expected to clinch first place in Group B when it plays Angola on Monday which would set up a clash with the co-host in the last eight.
“It’s only one defeat. We have to correct the mistakes for the next match and see the future optimistically,” said Equatorial Guinea coach Gilson Paulo.
Paulo was forced into changes against Zambia, with Iban Iyanga and Laurence Doe suspended. David Alvarez, scorer of the stoppage-time winner in the 2-1 victory against Senegal, was on a yellow card and was left on the bench. Daniel Ekedo, Daniel Vazquez and Jose Bokung were the replacements.
Zambia made just one change from the 2-2 draw with Libya, Davies Nkausu coming into the defence in place of Francis Kasonde.
Zambia captain Christopher Katongo had the first chance, but his long-range effort drifted off-target in the third minute.
Juvenal Edjogo-Owono threatened for Equatorial Guinea soon after, firing a free kick from distance that was gathered comfortably by Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene in the ninth.
With Equatorial Guinea already qualified, there was a festive atmosphere in the stadium, but clear chances were rare.
Knowing a draw would guarantee progression, Zambia was in no rush to force the proceedings, mindful perhaps of Equatorial Guinea’s ability on the counterattack.
Katongo cut onto his left foot inside the box and forced Equatorial Guinea ‘keeper Emanuel-Danilo Clementino into a low parry in the 36th.
Ivan Bolado then had the best chance of the half when he made space in the box from Ekedo’s pass but failed to lift his shot over the onrushing Mweene in the 41st.
Clementino was penalized for picking up a back pass at the start of the second half, but Ben Konate blocked Hichani Himoonde’s shot from the ensuing indirect free kick.
Zambia finally got the breakthrough with a moment of individual ability. Katongo collected the ball from a throw-in and rode two challenges on the edge of the box before hitting a low shot past Clementino in the 67th.
Katongo celebrated with a series of somersaults before his teammates caught up with him and indulged in a co-ordinated dance routine.
Equatorial Guinea almost hit back minutes later when Edjogo-Owono curled a free kick just wide of the right post but the home side was unable to recover after falling behind for the first time in the tournament.