Fifteen spots are up for grabs after nine nations sealed qualification to the 2019 African Cup of Nations tournament.
Over the weekend, the qualifiers entered the penultimate round the tournament due in Cameroon. The biennial showpiece has moved from the usual January/February to June/July for the first time.
The surprise package so far are Mauritania, who qualified for the continent’s biggest football show piece for the first time in their history on Sunday after defeating Botswana in Nouakhott.
The small western African nation came from a goal down to defeat Botswana 2-1 and sealed their qualification thanks to an Ismail Diakitte’s 84th minute winner.
Manchester City and Algeria forward Riyadh Mahrez bagged a brace in a 4-1 victory over Togo as he helped the Northern African nation also seal their place for the June tournament. Gambia’s 3-1 win over Benin put them back into contention for qualification in group D.
While 2015 champions Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea played to a 1-1 in Conakry but both nations had already qualified after Central African Republic were held to a 2-2 away in Kigali against Rwanda.
Mohammed Yattara and Jean Micheal Seri acored nine minutes apart for either sides.
Guinea top group H with 11 points while Ivory Coast are second on eight points.
In Group L, leaders Uganda sealed qualification on Saturday with a 1-0 home win over Cape Verde thanks to a Patrick Kaddu late header. Tanzania missed their chance to qualify after a 39-year absence.
A late goal from Nkau Lerotholi earned Lesotho a win which put them level with Tanzania on five points while Cape Verde are fourth with four points. Uganda travel to Tanzania while Cape Verde face Lesotho.
Madagascar, who sealed an historic first qualification for a Nations Cup last month, lost 3-1 at home to Sudan in Group A.
Elsewhere, African Player of the Year Muhammad Salah gave Egypt victory over rivals Tunisia but both teams had already qualified from group J. Niger also defeated Eswatini 2-1 in the same group.
Cameroon, who are the hosts and Morrocco have also clinched their spot for next year’s edition while Senegal and Mali all sealed qualification as early as October.
Nigeria, the three-time former champions who had failed to qualify for the last two editions, also sealed their qualification thanks to a 1-1 draw against South Africa in Soweto.
Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari was among those who watched as the Super Eagles seal qualification. Libya triumphed 8-1 in the Seychelles and host South Africa next March on the final match day needing a win to accompany Nigeria in qualifying from Group E.
2012 champions Zambia were eliminated from the final tournament after a 1-0 away loss to Mozambique in Group K. Guinea Bissau and Namibia had earlier played to a goalless draw.
Guinea Bissau and Namibia are tied on eight points while Mozambique are 3rd with seven points. The top two from the group will be decided on the final day.
Jordan Ayew scored both goals for Ghana as they beat Ethiopia 2-0 in Addis Ababa. This was the first game featuring both Ayew brothers since a World Cup qualifier in 2017.
The result puts Ghana second in Group F on six points from three matches. They are a point behind leaders Kenya who have played one game more. Kenya’s home match against Sierra Leone this weekend was cancelled because Sierra Leone are still serving a global ban from football. It means the qualifying picture for Group F remains unclear.
A total of nine teams have qualified for the final tournament so far. The new format allows 24 teams (2 per group) to qualify for the final showdown.
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