LUANDA, January 22- Zambia belied their lowly world ranking to emerge as surprise Group D winners ahead of continental giants Cameroon as the Africa Cup of Nations' first round came to a nerve-jangling climax on Thursday.With a superb 2-1 win over Gabon, Zambia jumped from bottom to top of their mini-league to earn a quarter-final date with Nigeria.
World Cup qualifiers Cameroon had to come from behind to draw 2-2 with Tunisia, a result that left them second in the table and facing defending champions Egypt in a re-run of the 2008 final in Ghana.
For Tunisia and Gabon, who had shocked Cameroon in the opening game, it meant the end of the road in Angola.
Zambia, who just sneak in to FIFA’s top 100 in 84th place, burst out of the blocks in Benguela, intent on bagging the three points that would see them derail highrollers Gabon.
Goals in either half from Rainford Kalaba and the Chinese-based James Chamanga earned Herve Renard’s men their first quarter-final berth in 14 years.
But they had to survive a nervous final eight minutes after Gabon captain and Hull City striker Daniel Cousin floated the ball into substitute Fabrice do Marcolino to shoot past keeper Ebang Ovono to give them hope.
Renard said: "When we came to Angola we said we will qualify for the quarter-finals but people were laughing at us. Against Nigeria, our target is to reach the semi-final."
Zambia skipper Chris Katongo added: "It’s a great moment for me as a captain to reach the knockout stage of the Nations Cup. We have achieved something, broken the barrier, which a lot of people thought was impossible."
Cousin cut a sad figure after the shock result, saying: "We thought we had qualified but after a short while, we received the news that we did not.
"We started well against Cameroon (in their first match), but whatever happened, happened."
In Lubango, Cameroon required a solitary point to ensure they didn’t become the only one of the five World Cup qualifiers here not to make it out of the first round.
Saudi Arabia-based striker Amine Chermiti put Tunisia into a 57-second lead.
Cameroon levelled in the opening minute of the second half via Samuel Eto’o but Tunisia regained the lead on 63 minutes with Aurelien Chedjou’s’ own goal.
In a topsy-turvy encounter, Cameroon equalised inside 60 seconds with Celtic midfielder Landy Nguemo on target only for Landry Nguemo to earn Tunisia an ultimately meaningless point.
There was confusion after the simultaneous games ended with Angolan television not alone in placing Cameroon top of the table, but competition organisers later confirmed that honour went to Zambia on a complex calculation that would have tested Einstein.
There is now a two-day break before Sunday’s quarter-finals pitting hosts Angola against Ghana and Algeria against pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast.