Nigeria and Burkina Faso reached the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals as Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba departed the stage for the last time without the gold medal he craved.
The Nigerian Super Eagles were too quick and slick for the often ponderous Ivorian Elephants and won 2-1 at Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in north-western mining town Rustenburg through goals from Emmanuel Emenike and Sunday Mba.
After the drama of Rustenburg, the crowd 400 kilometres east in Nelspruit had to endure two hours of drab fare before Burkina Faso edged Togo 1-0 thanks to a Jonathan Pitroipa goal halfway through extra time.
Former champions Nigeria face Mali in the first semi-final on Wednesday in Indian Ocean city Durban, followed three hours later by Burkina Faso against four-time title-holders Ghana in Nelspruit.
Even a soft Cheik Tiote equaliser five minutes into the second half failed to lift perennial title favourites Ivory Coast and Mba scored 12 minutes from time with a shot deflected by Souleman Bamba over goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.
Long considered a liability in the Drogba-skippered team, Barry was badly at fault for the first goal as he stood still to allow Emenike to score from distance after John Obi Mikel touched a free kick sideways.
Former Chelsea striker Drogba said several months ago that the 2013 tournament would be his Africa Cup swansong and he dreamt of lifting the trophy on February 10 at Soccer City stadium in Soweto.
But Drogba and other members of the 'golden generation' were given the run around by a mainly young, gifted Nigerian side, who are shaping up as possible champions after a slow start in which they were held by Burkina Faso.
"The boys showed character," boasted Nigeria coach and 1994 Cup of Nations gold medalist and captain Stephen Keshi. "When I played for Nigeria I had to fight, fight, fight, and they did that today.
Grim-faced Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi said there was understandable sadness as Ivory Coast once again 'choked', failing for a fifth consecutive tournament to justify the tag of favourites.
"For certain players this could be their last chance so, yes, there is disappointment in the dressing room. Our aim was to win the title, but our efforts proved not to be enough."
Apart from 34-year-old Drogba, Barry, Didier Zokora and out-of-favour fellow centre-back Kolo Toure are set to exit the international scene, while the future of Lamouchi must be in doubt.