LIBREVILLE, Gabon, January 31 – Former African powerhouse Sudan, after decades in the international wilderness, are back in the big time after progressing to the Africa Cup of Nations last eight on Monday.
But a 2-1 defeat of already eliminated Burkina Faso combined with the Ivorians’ 2-0 win over Angola in simultaneous matches lifted them above the 2010 hosts into the Group B runner-up spot.
The reward for coach Mohammed ‘Mazda’ Abdullah’s gallant heroes was a quarter-final against Zambia in Bata on Saturday.
Ivory Coast, who fielded a reserve XI in Malabo, face co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, the same day.
The other teams already through are Gabon and Tunisia with the remaining two quarter-final participants to come from Group D.
Mazda was thrilled, saying: “We deserved to be in the quarters.
“We played well…we’ve got one of the youngest teams in the tournament, with an average age of 24.
“My side is making progress, after a defeat, a draw and now a win. This was one of our best matches.”
His Burkina Faso counterpart Paulo Duarte believed his team had a bright future.
“If I stay on (as coach), we’ll make it to the World Cup, we’ve got the quality to do that,” he said.
In Bata, Mudather Eltaib scored either side of half time to bag the precious points which lifted the Sudanese level with Angola, their rivals for the runner-up spot in Group B, and crucially with a better goal difference.
To add icing to the cake Sudan also celebrated winning their first Nations Cup match since 1970… in the final.
The game was played out in a near-funereal atmosphere, with almost more players than fans at Bata’s stadium, an embarrassment for organisers CAF and co-hosts Equatorial Guinea.
In Malabo, former Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue and Wilfried Bony scored for Ivory Coast, who topped the final table with three wins, in a lacklustre tie.
Ivory Coast coach Francois Zahoui, while relieved to see his side progress, said: “The real relief will be to win the title. We’ll keep our feet on the ground. I’ll be happy when we have achieved our aim of bringing pleasure to the Ivorian people.
“We want to make it to the end, otherwise a couple of wins doesn’t mean anything.”
Angola manager Jose ‘Lito’ Vidigal reflected: “It was really difficult and we worked very hard to go through.
“We had lots of problems to qualify for this Nations Cup, but I’d like to thank all our fans.
“We were up against a very strong Ivory Coast side who are going to go far in this tournament.”
The Nations Cup action crosses the border on Tuesday for the closing Group C games, with Tunisia and Gabon in a face off in Franceville for top spot while already eliminated Niger and Morocco battle for honour in Libreville.