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Zambia back in semis after 16-year absence

BATA, Equatorial Guinea, February 4- Stoppila Sunzu, Christopher Katongo and James Chamanga scored as Zambia overcame 10-man Sudan 3-0 Saturday to reach the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals after a 16-year absence.

Favourites Zambia were rarely under pressure and Sunzu took advantage of slack marking to nod them ahead on 15 minutes, Katongo scored the second midway through the second half and substitute Chamanga added a late third.

Sudan had Saif Eldin red carded 19 minutes into the second half when his team were trailing by one goal and his dismissal signalled the end of any hope the Jediane Falcons had of causing an upset.

“This is the match we were expecting, a difficult game,” said Zambia coach Herve Renard whose team will face either Ghana or Tunisia in the semi-finals in Bata on Wednesday.

The Frdnchman added: “We went to sleep a little bit in the second half, then as so often Rainford Kalaba gave us some light, we won a penalty and they were down to 10 men, which made the job easier.

“All was not perfect today, but you have to be efficient, and in football that’s the most important thing.”

His Sudanese counterpart, Mohamed Abdulla Mazda, commented: “This tournament has been a success for us, we achieved our aim. Since 1976 we hadn’t got a point or scored a goal….

“Unfortunately we lost players to injury, and the penalty changed everything.

“We need more experience to reach the semi-finals.”

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A tiny crowd dotted the 35,000-seat Estadio de Bata in this port city with the biennial African football showcase failing to woo fans in Equatorial Guinea or Gabon except when the co-hosts are playing.

The teams remembered the 74 Egyptians who died after a league match in Port Said last Wednesday by wearing black armbands and observing a minute’s silence while Confederation of African Football flags flew at half mast.

Zambia kept faith in the team that defeated co-hosts Equatorial Guinea to top Group A while Sudan made one enforced change from the side that edged Burkina Faso with Musab replacing injured defender Nagm Eldin.

It did not take Zambia long to break the deadlock through a glancing header from centre-back Sunzu and they would have been more than 1-0 ahead at half-time but for several brave saves by Akram.

The goal was a gift from the Sudanese defence as they stood still while Sunzu moved forward to connect with a Kalaba free kick and nod the ball in at the near post.

Another Kalaba free kick nearly led to another goal soon after the half-hour mark as he played the ball back into the path of onrushing Nathan Sinkala and Akram did well to parry a drive away at the expense of a corner.

Sudan were slow and predictable and battling to create chances in the eerie atmosphere and lost midfielders Ala Eldin and Nazar through injuries with Amer and Ramadan coming on.

After applying early second half pressure, Sudan suffered a double blow when Saif Eldin was sent off after getting a second yellow card for fouling Kalaba inside the box and Katongo scored almost immediately.

His penalty produced a fine save from Akram, who appeared well off his line when the kick was taken, but the captain struck the rebound into the net with his weaker left foot, and Chamanga curled the ball in with four minutes left.

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