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Nigeria, Morocco sail through

Nigeria, Uganda, Mali and Morocco qualified for the 2019 African Cup of Nations soccer finals on Saturday while Libya scored eight goals to keep alive their hopes of also featuring at the finals.

Nigeria drew 1-1 with South Africa in Soweto
Nigeria drew 1-1 with South Africa in Soweto

Nigeria drew 1-1 with South Africa in Soweto, Uganda edged Cape Verde 1-0 in Kampala, Mali beat Gabon in Libreville and Morocco went through after rivals Malawi lost in the Comoros.

Libya triumphed 8-1 in the Seychelles and host South Africa next March on the final matchday needing a win to accompany Nigeria in qualifying from Group E.

The Libyans just missed equalling the record away winning margin for a Cup of Nations qualifier held by Ghana, who won 9-1 in Niger 49 years ago.

A total of 10 nations have booked places at the newly-extended 24-team finals with hosts Cameroon, Madagascar, Senegal, Egypt and Tunisia securing berths before this weekend.

Algeria secured their qualification after claiming a 4-1 away win over Togo at the Municipal Stadium in Lome last night.

The Fennec Foxes moved to 10 points at the head of group D and are guaranteed to finish in the top two. They have also done a massive favour for second-placed Benin, who remain two points clear of Togo and Gambia in third and fourth respectively.

Algeria claimed the lead in the 13th minute, with star man Riyad Mahrez showing great composure when goalkeeper Bassa-Djeri Sabirou sprinted off his line to make an interception, striking a shot from long range to make it 1-0 to the visitors.

Togolese defender Sadate Ouro-Akoriko tried to save the ball with his hands on the goal-line but couldn’t keep it from hitting the back of the net — had he done so, he surely would have seen a red card instead of the yellow he was issued.

The North African giants doubled their lead in the 28th minute, with right-back Youcef Attal scoring an incredible individual goal which saw him run most of the length of the field, and just two minutes later it was 3-0 when Mahrez banged home another powerful effort from the right of the penalty area.

Togo were stunned by the three-goal salvo inside the opening half hour, but they responded well in what remained of the first half and veteran forward Emmanuel Adebayor went close to pulling one back with a header just a few minutes before the interval.

Eight minutes into the second half, the Sparrow Hawks got themselves on the score sheet, with Kodjo Fo Doh Laba netting a fine header from a corner kick. The goal sparked the West African side into life and they put Algeria under pressure for much of the second half.

But the Fennec Foxes wrapped up an impressive away win in injury time when Baghdad Bounedjah took advantage of Togo’s tiring defence and completed a 4-1 victory.

Nigeria, the three-time former champions who had failed to qualify for the last two editions, were ahead in South Africa within nine minutes when Buhle Mkhwanazi scored an own goal.

Outstanding South African Percy Tau set up the equaliser for Lebo Mothiba on 26 minutes, but the hosts were fortunate as several contentious off-side decisions went against Nigeria.

“A draw feels like a victory because of the heat (32 degrees celsius/90 fahrenheit) and getting little sleep on our overnight flight,” said Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr. Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari was among those who hailed the Super Eagles for qualifying.

“The president joins millions of football-loving Nigerians in commending the team for their spirited and disciplined performance against a very formidable opponent,” a statement said.

South Africa coach Stuart Baxter said: “I am proud that we have taken four points off Nigeria in the group and disappointed that we were not braver during the second half.”

Anis Saltou bagged a hat-trick in Victoria as Libya humiliated the Seychelles, whose 188th world ranking is the lowest among the 48 teams in the qualifying competition.

Meanwhile, Patrick Kaddu’s 79th-minute goal not only assured Uganda of first place in Group L, it opened the door for Tanzania to also qualify.

If Tanzania win in Lesotho in yesterday’s matches they will return to the African football showcase after a 39-year absence.

An early Moussa Doumbia goal gave Mali a 1-0 victory and left Gabon, who were without injured star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, needing a matchday 6 victory in Burundi to qualify from Group C.

A draw will suffice for Burundi, who are ranked 142nd in the world and seeking a first Cup of Nations appearance.

Morocco qualified when Group B rivals Malawi lost 2-1 away to out-of-contention Comoros in Mitsamiouli.

The Comoran victory in the multi-island Indian Ocean state gave Morocco an unassailable six-point advantage over Malawi.

El Fardou Mohamed Ben Nabouhane, who has been playing for Red Star Belgrade in the Uefa Champions League, gave the Comoros a second-minute lead.

Patrick Phiri equalised after 53 minutes and Nasser Chamed scored the winner in the 70th minute on an artificial pitch.

Leaders Morocco and second-placed Cameroon qualify from the group, with the latter assured of a place because they are hosting the tournament between June 15-July 13. Cameroon are involved in the qualifying competition to gain match practice before defending the title they won in Gabon last year by defeating Egypt 2-1 in the final.

Morocco climbed above Cameroon into first place in Group B on Friday after beating them 2-0 in Casablanca thanks to a second-half brace from Hakim Ziyech.

Senegal won 1-0 in Equatorial Guinea with a Luis Meseguer own-goal soon after halftime deciding a dead rubber Group A match in Bata.

Benin missed out on qualification from Group D at the weekend after collapsing towards the end of their clash with The Gambia to lose 3-1 after taking the lead in Bakau.

Guinea-Bissau forced a 0-0 Group K draw in Namibia and will compete at successive Cup of Nations tournaments if they beat Mozambique at home in the final round of games.

Mohamed Salah scored in the final minute to give Egypt a 3-2 home victory over Tunisia on Friday in a 2019 African Cup of Nations match between two countries who have already qualified.

The Liverpool star chipped the ball into the net to complete the scoring in a seesaw matchday 5 struggle during which both sides led.

Salah has scored four goals in Cup of Nations qualifiers — two less than chart-topper Idion Ighalo of Nigeria.

Naim Sliti gave Tunisia an early lead that Mahmoud ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan cancelled before half-time at the 86 000-seat Borg el Arab stadium in Alexandria. — AFP