BATA, Equitorial Guinea, February 8 -Substitute Emmanuel Mayuka scored 12 minutes from time to give Zambia a shock 1-0 win over four-time champions Ghana Wednesday and a place in the Africa Cup of Nations final.
Zambia now go to Libreville for an emotional showdown with Ivory Coast or Mali Sunday as it was off the Gabon coast that a plane carrying the 1993 squad plunged into the Atlantic killing all 25 players and officials on board.
“It was written in the stars that we had to return to Gabon in order to honour the memories of the national side wiped out in 1993,” said Zambia’s French coach Herve Renard.
“A team that is returning home and all of them die, is catastrophic for a country.
“Twelve million Zambians wanted us to go the whole way to Libreville. As soon as we arrive in Libreville, we will go to the spot where the plane crashed, not far from the stadium.
“It is imperative we play for them, for Zambia, because it is a fantastic country.”
Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic took defeat so badly he refused to appear at the press conference and it was left to his assistant Akwasi Appiah to assess the match.
“We dominated almost all the match, they had only one or two opportunities, and scored with one of them,” said Appiah.
“Zambia is a huge footballing nation, they deserve to be in the final.
“Everyone is very sad, the majority of the players cried.”
It will be the third final appearance by the Copper Bullets after losing to Zaire after a replay in 1974 and to Nigeria 20 years later with a team built within 12 months after the tragedy.
Midfielder Derek Boateng was sent off seven minutes from time after a second booking to leave Ghana battling on with 10 men in a tense finish as Zambia clung to the slender advantage.
It was a familiar scene at the 35,00-seat Estadio de Bata in this port city with row after row of empty red and blue seats, and many who did turn up raced to the back rows for shelter from heavy pre-match rain.
The Black Stars were favourites and the early exchanges backed that view with the four-time champions squandering a great chance to take an early lead when Asamoah Gyan failed to convert a penalty.
Awarded for a foul on Kwadwo Asamoah by Davies Nkausu, Gyan did not strike the spot kick with great power and Kennedy Mweene guessed correctly, dived to his left and pushed the ball away with his left hand.
Gyan, whose three goals were instrumental in Ghana reaching the 2010 final, was not at his sharpest and shot timidly at Mweene soon after when put through by Andre Ayew.
Jordan Ayew, younger brother of Andre and son of Ghana legendy Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew, was another culprit when he broke free inside the box but failed to connect with a delicate chip over the defence.
With the Black Stars doing most of the pressing, scoring chances for the Copper Bullets were few and far between although captain Christopher Katongo should have done better than blaze wide when set up by Rainford Kalaba.
Renard had a change of mind at half-time regarding his lone striker and introduced Mayuka for James Chamanga, hoping the young Switzerland-based star could add to two goals early in the tournament.
But the goalmouth action continued to be largely at the end guarded by Mweene, who had to get down smartly when Jordan Ayew unleashed a low, close-range shot.
Ghana looked more likely to break the deadlock as the second half wore on and they suffered a blow when injury-prone captain John Mensah was forced to retire with Isaac Vorsah coming on.