Ivory Coast and Zambia ruthlessly crushed Africa Cup of Nations underdogs Equatorial Guinea and Sudan 3-0 respectively on Saturday to end the dreams of opponents who had upset the odds to reach the last eight.
Co-hosts Equatorial Guinea were taken apart by favorites Ivory Coast, whose 33-year-old striker Didier Drogba scored twice after missing a penalty, before Yaya Toure’s long-range free-kick completed the win on another steamy Malabo evening.
Ivory Coast are scheduled to face Gabon or Mali in the semi-finals as they attempt to win their first title since 1992.
Zambia’s Stopilla Sunzu, captain Chris Katongo and James Chamanga shared the goals in their quarter-final victory over Sudan in Bata, Equatorial Guniea, to keep coach Herve Renard awake against opponents he described as sleep-inducing.
Zambia are scheduled to face Ghana or Tunisia in the semi-finals.
Debutants Equatorial Guinea’s collection of Spanish lower league players, who qualify to represent the country through their parents, and naturalized foreign imports had surpassed expectations by reaching the last eight with wins over Libya and Senegal.
The same went for Sudan, whose entire squad is based at home and whose win over Burkina Faso in their final group game was their first since the 1970 tournament, which they won.
After Ivory Coast played some excellent soccer in the previous three tournaments, but failed to win, coach Francois Zahoui has this time given them a more pragmatic approach and they have yet to concede a goal in four outings.
In a tournament characterized by poor attendances, not even the most pessimistic observer could have expected that Malabo’s new 15,000 capacity stadium would not be full at kickoff for Equatorial Guinea’s biggest-ever match.
Fans were still filing in 20 minutes after the start, with many gathering in the entrances and aisles rather than trying to find seats.
The late arrivals were just in time to see Drogba’s 29th-minute penalty saved by Equatorial Guinea’s Brazilian-born goalkeeper Danilo, who dived to his right to push the ball away, sending the stadium into raptures.
Drogba needed only seven minutes to make amends, though, pouncing on a dreadful mistake by Rui to cut inside his marker and score inside the near post.
Ivory Coast initially appeared happy to sit on their lead, but the hosts left so many gaps at the back that they could not refuse the invitation to push forward.
Drogba headed his second in the 70th minute, silencing the stadium and causing many fans to leave early. The goal was Drogba’s third of the tournament and his 10th in the Cup of Nations.
“I knew it would be a very difficult game against experienced players with a lot of quality,” said Equatorial Guinea’s Brazilian coach, Gilson Paulo, who only took over the side one month ago following the resignation of Henri Michel. “I’m happy with the job we did in a short time.”
Zambia produced a workmanlike performance and went in front when Sunzu rose unchallenged to head home a free-kick after a quarter of an hour.
Katongo scored on the rebound after his penalty attempt had been saved by Sudan’s Akram El Hadi Salem for his third goal of the tournament in the 66th minute.
The penalty came after tricky play down the wing forced a trip on Rainford Kalaba by Saifeldin Ali Hidris, who got a second caution to became the fifth player sent off at the tournament.