Madagascar qualified for their first ever Africa Cup of Nations after beating Equatorial Guinea 1-0 at home on Tuesday and were later joined by Egypt, Senegal and Tunisia in the 24-team field for next year’s expanded finals.
With two nations qualifying from 11 of the 12 four-team groups, Madagascar were always going to have a good chance to make the breakthrough, at their 17th attempt, after starting their Group A campaign with an away win in Sudan last year.
Yet successive 1-0 wins home and away against Equatorial Guinea in the last five days took them over the line, with Njiva Rakotoharimalala scoring the only goal of Tuesday’s match in Antananarivo.
Senegal won 1-0 in Sudan thanks to a late goal from Sidy Sarr as Liverpool forward Sadio Mane was left out of the team after hurting a thumb at the weekend.
Egypt’s 2-0 away win over eSwatini, formerly Swaziland, was without the injured Mohamed Salah and a 2-1 triumph for Tunisia in Niger ensured the two north African powerhouses qualified from Group J. Firas Chawat scored both goals for Tunisia on his debut.
Uganda need a point from their last two qualifiers to reach the finals after beating Lesotho 2-0 away and Guinea are also on the cusp despite giving up a late goal and being held 1-1 in Rwanda.
Liverpool’s Naby Keita went off at halftime with a suspected muscle strain.
Ivory Coast still have some work to do after they were held 0-0 away in Central African Republic, but are expected to qualify from Group H along with Guinea.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did not play for Gabon as they won 1-0 in South Sudan after a row over the charter plane initially laid on to take the team to Juba.
Aubameyang lead protests by players and staff and then said he had a backache and pulled out of the trip on Monday, as a new and larger plane took the players for the match, where Andre Biyogo Poko scored the only goal of the game.
Aubameyang last month criticised the Gabon federation’s poor organisation.
Tiny Seychelles held South Africa to a goalless draw on the Indian Ocean Island, while Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo followed up his hat-trick against Libya at the weekend with another two goals against the same opposition in a 3-2 win in neutral Sfax, Tunisia.
Nigeria top Group E with nine points, South Africa have eight and Libya four.
South Africa, however, have tough fixtures against Nigeria at home next month and Libya away in March for their last two games and could miss out on the finals for the second straight edition.
South Africa’s two Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Seychelles in the last few days have shown the casual observer everything they need to know about this current Bafana Bafana side.
At times, they are incisive, skillful and a joy to watch, in other moments sloppy, lackadaisical and utterly frustration in their execution. They can be the both brilliant and bemusing in equal measure.
It is nothing new.
Last year they followed up a commanding 2-0 victory away in Uyo against Nigeria, a match in which they could easily have been 5-0 winners, with back-to-back home and away losses to Cape Verde.
There was no reason why they should perform so poorly in those matches against Cape Verde when they clearly have the ability to beat, with the greatest respect to the islanders, much better sides.
Saturday’s 6-0 success over Seychelles was a record win for the country, and yet they follow that up days later with arguably one of their most deflating results, a goalless draw against a side ranked number 189 in the world.
Certainly, there have been darker days, but just when it appeared that a corner had been turned at the weekend, Bafana blow the chance to take a real grip on their Nations Cup qualification group.
For a side that have only made it through one continental qualification campaign in the last decade (they appeared as hosts in 2013), it is potentially a big chance blown.
Certainly there were mitigating circumstances to Tuesday’s goalless draw; the pitch in Victoria was horrendous and made playing passing football extremely difficult, cutting out one of the team’s key weapons, to hit sides quickly on the counter-attack.
In fact, it was noticeable how, in the second half, the side resorted to hoofing long balls up field, which is most certainly not their game.—ESPN