The Cape Verde Islands secured a place at the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time on Sunday, while former champions Ethiopia are back in the big time after a 30-year absence.
The much-hyped return of striker and captain Samuel Eto’o helped four-time champions Cameroon to a 2-1 home win over Cape Verde, but a 3-2 aggregate loss means a second consecutive failure to reach the African soccer showcase.
Alula Girma and Saladin Seid scored within three minutes during the second half in Addis Ababa to earn Ethiopia a 2-0 victory over Sudan and a ticket to South Africa in January on away goals after a 5-5 aggregate deadlock.
An early Antonio Pereira goal was just what Cape Verde needed to settle the nerves in the intimidating cauldron of a packed 60,000-seat Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde.
Achille Emana leveled soon after and there was relentless Indomitable Lions second-half pressure, including an Eto’o attempt that rebounded off the woodwork, but all they had to show for it was a late Fabrice Olinga goal.
Eto’o was back after a year of international inactivity due to an eight-month ban imposed by the national soccer federation for instigating a bonus-related boycott of a friendly in Algeria.
He also refused to turn up for the first leg in Cape Verde last month, labeling the national squad “amateurish and badly managed,” and his absence contributed to the worst day in Cameroonian soccer.
Portuguese-speaking Cape Verde is an archipelago off the coast of Senegal with a population of just 500,000 and the national squad consists mainly of players at unfashionable European clubs.
The qualification of the Ethiopian Black Lions confirmed a recent upsurge of fortunes that has seen them lead a 2014 World Cup qualifying group after holding South Africa away and defeating the Central African Republic at home.
They also won on away goals against Benin in the first elimination round for January’s Cup of Nations and they now return to a tournament they won for the only time 50 years ago.
Sudan won a goal-flush first encounter 5-3 thanks to a late Mohamed Al Tahir brace and were barely troubled during the opening half at the National Stadium in the heart of the Ethiopian capital.
As the hour mark passed without a goal it was looking good for the visitors and then Girma and Egypt-based Seid turned the match on its head to the delight of a sell-out 30,000 crowd.
Alain Traore struck five minutes into stoppage-time to give Burkina Faso a 3-1 home win over giantkillers the Central African Republic, who took a one-goal lead into the tie having stunned seven-time champions Egypt in the previous round.
Former Manchester United signing Manucho Goncalves scored twice in the early minutes in Luanda to secure a 2-0 win for Angola over Zimbabwe, overall victory on away goals after a 3-3 tie and a fifth consecutive Cup of Nations appearance.
Niger left it much later to upset Guinea 2-0 and squeeze through on aggregate after a solitary-goal first-leg loss, with Mohammed Chikoto and Issoufou Garba netting in the closing stages.
Emmanuel Adebayor of Tottenham Hotspur was on target for Togo in a 2-1 win over last year’s co-hosts Gabon, who were held at home in the first leg. Wome Dove was the other Togo marksman, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang grabbed a late consolation goal.
Equatorial Guinea halved a four-goal first-leg deficit against the Democratic Republic of the Congo after 35 minutes in Malabo, but Youssouf Mulumbu reduced the arrears before halftime and the hosts had to settle for a hollow 2-1 win.
Any hope Libya had of overhauling a one-goal loss first time out against Algeria did not last long in Blida, with El Arbi Hilal Soudani and Islam Slimani scoring within seven minutes as the hosts cruised to a 2-0 victory.
A draw in Durban on Wednesday next week divides the 15 survivors plus South Africa — automatic qualifiers as hosts — into four groups for the Jan. 19 to Feb. 10 tournament.