Nigeria and South Africa both missed out on next year’s African Cup of Nations after disappointing and contrasting draws in Saturday’s round of qualifying games.
Ibrahima Diallo’s late equalizer in Abuja saw Guinea rally for a 2-2 draw against Nigeria, while South Africa prematurely celebrated their 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone wrongly thinking they had advanced.
Both teams joined an impressive list of absentees that included fellow former champions Egypt and Cameroon, while Tunisia are the only ones of the last of nine African champions to reach next year’s continental championship.
In a dramatic — and in South Africa’s case, farcical — penultimate day of qualifying for the African Cup, Mali, Guinea, Zambia, Niger, Ghana and Angola went through as group winners and Libya clinched one of the two spots for the best second-placed teams.
Despite a 3-0 loss at Egypt, Niger reached their first African Cup of Nations and major tournament for the first time after emerging from the Group G tie between them, South Africa and Sierra Leone with the better head-to-head points total.
Those countries joined co-hosts Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and already-qualified Botswana, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Burkina Faso at the 16-team tournament.
In Nelspruit, South Africa thought they were through on goal difference and Bafana Bafana players celebrated with dancing in front of fans and a lap of honor as coach Pitso Mosimane hugged members of his technical team. However, Niger took the automatic spot through the tiebreaker after all three finished locked on nine points.
“Did we qualify? What do you think?” Mosimane said as confusion reigned. “If we’ve qualified, I’m very happy. I don’t know.”
Niger players, meanwhile, didn’t celebrate even though they finally reached their first African Cup of Nations after 41 years of trying.
Four-time African champions Ghana beat Sudan 2-0 in Khartoum through goals by Asamoah Gyan and John Mensah inside 17 minutes to seal their place as Group I winners despite defender Isaac Vorsah’s red card.
Tunisia beat Togo 2-0, but only squeezed through after Malawi conceded a late equalizer in a 2-2 draw with Chad in Group K. Tunisia gained one of two automatic spots in the five-team group with Botswana taking the other.
Libya shook off the distractions of their own domestic problems and being forced to play “home” games away by qualifying from a 0-0 draw in Zambia.
The Libya players wore new uniforms to reflect the change of leadership in their country and sang their new anthem under a new flag before qualifying out of Group C.
Mali were held to a 2-2 draw in Liberia, but also sneaked through despite pressure from tiny Cape Verde, who beat Zimbabwe 2-1. Mali and Cape Verde finished on 10 points, but Mali qualified because of their better record against the unheralded nation, who were chasing their first Cup of Nations appearance.
Angola won 2-0 in Guinea-Bissau to edge out Uganda after they lost their Group J lead with a 0-0 draw at home to Kenya.
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