Amadeu Masasi was the Democratic Republic of Congo hero again Monday in the African Nations Championship, scoring the stoppage-time goal that defeated Niger 2-1 in Cameroon and won Group B.
The 91st-minute winner following a Nigerien blunder in Yaounde came four days after his added-time thunderbolt salvaged a draw against Libya.
Although hard hit by coronavirus with 12 players and head coach Florent Ibenge testing positive during the three-match first round, DR Congo topped the standings with seven points.
Neighbours Congo Brazzaville joined them in the quarter-finals by edging Libya 1-0 in Douala through a Gautrand Ngouenimba goal, which took them from last place to second with four points.
Niger pipped former champions Libya for third spot on goals scored after both nations finished with two points and minus-one goal differences.
In the quarter-finals of a competition restricted to home-based footballers, DR Congo face Group A runners-up Cameroon in Douala and Congo meet Group A winners Mali in Yaounde.
Covid-19 has wreaked havoc in the DR Congo squad with five players ruled out of a win over Congo Brazzaville, four missing the draw with Libya, and another three sidelined for the triumph against Niger.
Ibenge, coach of DR Congo when they won the second of two CHAN titles in 2016, had to self-isolate for the Libya and Niger matches, leaving assistant Pamphile Mihayo in charge.
DR Congo were fortunate that goalkeeper Siadi Ngusia Baggio was not injured against Niger as they did not have a reserve goalkeeper owing to positive coronavirus cases.
John Kadima put DR Congo ahead midway through the opening half and Niger substitute Mossi Moussa levelled 17 minutes from time.
A second Nigerien goal would have taken them to the quarter-finals as group winners, but their hopes were dashed by Masasi, one of four players to score twice so far in the tournament.
In Douala, Libya kicked off with a one-point advantage over Congo and were hopeful of reaching the quarter-finals having been unlucky not to defeat DR Congo.
But Congo who hungrier for maximum points and it came as no surprise when Ngouenimba sneaked behind the defence to fire past goalkeeper Ahmed Azzaqa on 50 minutes.
Falling behind forced the Libyans to be more adventurous, but too many overhit passes and crosses and resolute Congolese defending prevented an equaliser. AFP