Hosts dominated qualifying for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations over the weekend with only the competition's most successful team losing at home. There was plenty of drama with three ties decided on away goals and one going all the way to penalties. In total, five teams overturned first-leg deficits to advance in continental qualifying.
The big match
Egypt 2-3 Central African Republic - Borg El Arab Stadium, Alexandria
Seven-time African champions Egypt were overwhelming favourites against Central African Republic, who have never qualified for a major championship, but Bob Bradley's Pharaohs gave up the lead twice against the 10-man visitors. In a first leg match delayed from February, forward Momi Hilaire equalised twice after goals from Mohamed Zidan and Mohamed Salah. Les Fauves had defender Salif Keita sent off, but David Manga turned things around to give the visitors the advantage ahead of the return leg in a fortnight.
Four-time champions Cameroon again struggled to break down a game Guinea-Bissau, winning 1-0 through Benjamin Moukandjo's late goal, a similar situation to the first leg, which ended by the same score after an extra-time winner. The troubled Lions did little to ease pressure on themselves, and supporters in Yaounde chanted the name of suspended icon Samuel Eto'o, who should be available to coach Denis Lavagne by the next round. Nigeria did better at appeasing their demanding fans, who have been bothered by the Super Eagles recent poor finishing. The two-time African champions continued to be wasteful against Rwanda in Calabar, but a powerful early goal from Ikechukwu Uche and a long-range shot by Ahmed Musa did enough to settle the tie after a scoreless first leg.
Three other previous champions also advanced, including Congo DR and Algeria, who completed sweeps of Seychelles and Gambia respectively, and Ethiopia. The Ethiopians, celebrating the 50-year anniversary of their lone Cup of Nations title, advanced past in-form Benin with a gritty 1-1 draw that gave them an away-goal victory following a scoreless first match. The lowest-ranked team left in the competition at 130 in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the Black Lions are sure to shoot up after also holding South Africa away and beating Central African Republic earlier this month. The only other previous champion, Congo, were spanked 4-0 at Uganda, which overturned their 3-1 first-leg win.
Sierra Leone scored four times in the first half to overturn a single-goal deficit with a 4-2 win over Sao Tome e Principe, while Malawi also recovered to win their tie 4-3 over Chad after a 2-0 victory. Left biting their fingernails were fans in Zimbabwe, Togo and Mozambique. The Zimbabweans and Togolese both won on away goals following 1-0 wins that made their ties at 2-2 aggregate against Burundi and Kenya respectively. In Maputo, Mozambique gave up a late equaliser but recovered to win a penalty shoot-out 8-7 after both matches ended 1-1.
It was a busy Friday evening for 22-year-old Central African Republic striker Momi Hilaire, who scored a pair against Egypt, hit the bar once and set up a team-mate for the winner.
1 – The number of matches out of 14 won over the weekend by the away team. CAR have the honour, and only three other road teams earned draws.
What they said
“I'm very confident we are going to the finals next year. We feel we can beat any team in Africa if we stay strong and play as a team as we are currently doing,” said Geoffrey Massa, who scored one of Uganda's three second half goals.
The 13 advancing teams, plus either Egypt or Central African Republic, will be drawn with the 16 countries that participated at the AFCON finals earlier this year. The 15 winners from the two-legged clashes will join hosts South Africa at the finals next year.
Mozambique 1-1 Tanzania
(Aggregate score 2-2, Mozambique qualify for next round 8-7 on penalties)
Zimbabwe 1-0 Burundi
(Zimbabwe qualify for next round on away goal rule, aggregate score 2-2)
DR Congo 3-0 Seychelles
(DR Congo qualify for next round 7-0 on aggregate)
Benin 1-1 Ethiopia
(Ethiopia qualify for next round on away goal rule, aggregate score 1-1)
Togo 1-0 Kenya
(Togo qualify for next round on away goal rule, aggregate score 2-2)
Malawi 2-0 Chad
(Malawi qualify for next round 4-3 on aggregate)
Uganda 4-0 Congo
(Uganda qualify for next round 5-3 on aggregate)
Cameroon 1-0 Guinea-Bissau
(Cameroon qualify for next round 2-0 on aggregate)
Nigeria 2-0 Rwanda
(Nigeria qualify for next round 2-0 on aggregate)
Sierra Leone 4-2 Sao Tome e Principe
(Sierra Leone qualify for next round 5-4 on aggregate)
Namibia 0-0 Liberia
(Liberia qualify for next round 1-0 on aggregate)
Cape Verde Islands 3-1 Madagascar
(Cape Verde qualify for next round 7-1 on aggregate)
Egypt 2-3 Central African Republic
(First leg result, second leg on 30 June)
Algeria 4-1 Gambia
(Algeria qualify for next round 6-2 on aggregate)