Zambia defeated already qualified co-hosts Equatorial Guinea 1-0 Sunday to top Group A at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.
Captain and striker Christopher Katongo settled a cagey Nuevo Estadio de Malabo clash of few scoring chances on 67 minutes, beating Brazil-born goalkeeper Danilo with a hard low shot.
Topping the table means the Zambian Copper Bullets are likely to face Angola or Sudan in the quarter-finals next Saturday while Equatorial Guinea must brace themselves for a clash with title co-favourites Ivory Coast.
Zambia collected seven points from three matches, Equatorial Guinea six and Libya four after a 2-1 victory over pointless Senegal in Bata thanks to a brace from Ihab El Busaifi.
Coach Gilson Paulo made three changes to the Equatorial Guinea line-up that started in victories over Libya and Senegal with defenders Daniel Vazquez and Jose Bogung and striker Daniel Ekedo drafted in.
They took the places of suspended Laurence Doe and rested David Alvarez and Iban ‘Randy’ Iyanga as Paulo basked in the satisfaction of securing a one-year contract at 15,000 dollars a month after his earlier triumphs.
Zambia coach Herve Renard made one change to the starting line-up that drew with Libya in a Bata mudbath four days ago with Davies Nkausu taking over from Francis Kasonde in defence.
A goalless first half was extremely cagey before a near-capacity crowd in the 15,000-seat stadium with the first chance of breaking the deadlock coming after 35 minutes.
Midfielder Rainford Kalaba set up striker Katongo inside the penalty area and his stinging angled shot brought out the best in Danilo as he pushed the ball away from danger.
Equatorial Guinea had a better chance six minutes later as Ivan Bolado picked up a low Daniel Ekedo cross and beat Stoppila Sunzu only to be foiled by a brave block from goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene.
Danilo has a habit of handling back passes and did so again just after the break, presenting Zambia with an indirect free kick within the box, but the goalkeeper atoned with a reflex save from a Hichani Himoonde drive.
Although the Equatoguineans are 25 places below the Zambians on the African rankings, there was no evidence of a yawning gap between the teams with the National Lightning holding their own entering the final quarter.
However, a goal out of nothing from China-based Katongo silenced the crowd as a throw-in set up the former army sergeant to beat Danilo with a shot into the corner of the net.