Defender Dennis Banda was the unlikely hero as Zambia forced a last-gasp 1-1 draw with Tanzania in Ivory Coast Saturday and reached the African Nations Championship semi-finals.
The result coupled with a 0-0 stalemate between Ivory Coast and Senegal in the other Group A match left the Zambian ‘Copper Bullets’ top of the table on goal difference.
Unbeaten Zambia and Senegal completed their three-match schedules with five points each, improving Tanzania finished one point behind and Ivory Coast, the team seeded to win the mini-league, managed a solitary point.
Zambia return to the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan for a Wednesday showdown against the Group B runners-up while Senegal travel to the central textile city Bouake to confront the Group B winners.
Pacesetters Demcratic Republic of Congo play underperforming Ghana and surprise package Zimbabwe tackle Libya Sunday in the final Group B matches with all four countries in contention for last-four places.
The maiden edition of a tournament reserved for home-based footballers may lack the glamour stars like Emmauel Adebayor, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Samuel Eto’o bring to its ‘big brother’, the African Nations Cup.
But the Nations Championship offers the likes of Banda from Zambian army club Green Buffaloes a chance to share the international spotlight with the African footballers based in Europe.
Zambia were trailing Tanzania 1-0 at the Peace Stadium in Bouake and staring elimination when he ventured forward for a corner four minutes into stoppage time and volleyed the equaliser.
Tanzania had gone ahead two minutes from full-time when another defender, Shadrack Nsajigwa from champions Young Africans, fired a penalty awarded for handball past Davy Kaumbwa.
Ivory Coast, whose coach Georges Kouadio boasted before the tournament kicked off last Sunday that his team would become the first holders of the trophy, dodged a third consecutive defeat in a dour Abidjan struggle.
A capacity 35,000 crowd saw them crash to Zambia in their opening match, but just 2,000 die-hard ‘Elephants’ supporters turned up at Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium to watch them tackle physically formidable Senegal.
The woodwork deprived a midfielder from each team in the West Africa derby with a shot from Senegalese Vito Badiane rebounding off the crossbar in the opening half and Ivorian Aboubacar Diomande out of luck after half-time.