Zambia edged Malawi after a 2-2 draw in a hard-fought quarterfinal, while before that a youthful South Africa had let a two-goal lead slip to also draw 2-2 with Botswana, and then lose in the post-match shoot-out.
It means The Zebras will tackle Lesotho in Wednesday’s (5 June) semi-finals at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, while Zambia advance to another massive clash as defending champions Zimbabwe loom – a repeat of the final in the last two editions.
Malawi were quick out the blocks against Chipolopolo as Gabadinho Mhango moved to joint top of the scorers charts with his third goal of the competition.
He turned the ball home from close-range to take his COSAFA Cup career tally to six and in sight of the all-time leading scorers in the competition, Peter Ndlovu from Zimbabwe and Felix Badenhorst from Eswatini, who have eight.
Zambia were denied an equaliser by Malawi goalkeeper Ernest Kakhobwe, as Lazarous Kambowe saw his effort well saved, before Mhango fired a free-kick straight at Chipolopolo keeper Sebastian Mwange.
Botswana were awarded a penalty when Richard Mbulu was fouled in the box from a free-kick and referee Lebalang Mokete from Lesotho had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Phiri Jnr, who netted a crucial spot-kick against Namibia in the pool stages, stepped up and made no mistake again for his third of the competition.
Zambia pulled one back almost out of nothing as Austin Muwowo pounced to reduce the deficit on 58 minutes.
And they were level on 89 minutes when Malawi keeper Kakhobwe had a moment of madness, missing a back-pass altogether as he tried to clear, allowing Kambole to lay the ball on for Emmanuel Chabula to score the simplest of tap-ins.
That means the game went to penalties and after Chawanangwa Kaonga and Precious Sambani missed for The Flames, Zambia were able to seal their spot in the next round.
South Africa let a two-goal lead slip as they were bundled out of the competition at the quarterfinal stage for the fourth time in the last five years.
Luther Singh and Grant Margeman had given the home side a comfortable 2-0 halftime lead, but when they failed to add to that advantage, Botswana clawed their way back into the game.
Lebogang Ditsele headed home from a corner just past the hour-mark, and then with seconds remaining on the clock, Thatayaone Ditlhokwe scored in almost exactly the same fashion.
That took the game to penalties and when the unfortunate Teboho Mokoena saw his effort saved by Botswana goalkeeper Ezekiel Morake, The Zebras were able to march on into the next round.
It presents Botswana with the chance to lift the COSAFA Cup for the first time in their history after a number of near misses, and is also the second time since 2015 that they have defeated South Africa on penalties.
The Plate semi-finals will be played on Tuesday (4 June) when Uganda take on South Africa at the Princess Magogo Stadium (kick-off 17h00 local; 15h00 GMT) and Comoros tackle Malawi at 19h30 (17h30 GMT).
Though all four sides will feel disappointed to have dropped into those stage of the competition, it is an opportunity for more game-time and to lift a trophy at the end.
South Africa are the ‘defending champions’ in the Plate after they beat Botswana 3-0 in last year’s final.
South Africa 2 (Singh 19’, Margeman 28’) Botswana 2 (Ditsele 61′, Ditlhokwe 90′) – Botswana win 5-4 on pens
Zambia 2 (Muwowo 58’, Chabula 89’) Malawi 2 (Mhango 2’, Phiri Jnr 51’pen) –Zambia won 4-2 on pens
Uganda vs South Africa (KO 17h00; 15h00 GMT) – Princess Magogo Stadium
Comoros vs Malawi (KO 19h30; 17h30 GMT) – Princess Magogo Stadium
Matches Played: 13
Goals scored: 35
Biggest victory: Malawi 3 Seychelles 0 (Group B, May 26)
Most goals in a game:
4 – Eswatini 2 Mauritius 2 (Group A, May 25);
Eswatini 2 Comoros 2 (Group A, May 27);
South Africa 2 Botswana 2 (Quarterfinals, June 2);
Zambia 2 Malawi 2 (Quarterfinals, June 2)
3 goals – Gabadinho Mhango (Malawi), Ashley Nazira (Mauritius), Gerald Phiri Jnr (Malawi)
2 – Felix Badenhorst (Eswatini), Issaskar Gurirab (Namibia), Youssouf Ibroihim (Comoros)
1 – Khama Billiat (Zimbabwe),Emmanuel Chabula (Zambia), Thatayaone Ditlhokwe (Botswana),Lebogang Ditsele (Botswana),Charles Hambira (Namibia),Soulaimana Ibouniyamine (Comoros), Jeituso (Mozambique), Hassan Kajoke (Malawi), Absalom Iimbondi (Namibia), Joslin Kamatuka (Namibia), Grant Margeman (South Africa), Siboniso Mamba (Eswatini), Richard Mbulu (Malawi), Austin Muwowo (Zambia), Sabelo Ndzinisa (Eswatini), Boina Bacar Raidou (Comoros), Evans Rusike (Zimbabwe), Luther Singh (South Africa), Sadney Urikhob (Namibia), Witi (Mozambique)