Burundi have reached the finals of a CAF senior national team competition for the first time after fighting back to draw 1-1 with Sudan in an African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifier and going on to the win the penalty shootout 4-3.
Sudan is a happy hunting ground for Burundi as top club Vital'O won the regional CECAFA championship there last month. Victory earned the Swallows a place at the 16-team tournament in South African cities Bloemfontein, Cape Town and Polokwane next January.
Burkina Faso, Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria and Uganda have also qualified. And South Africa are automatic participants as hosts of the biennial competition for home-based footballers.
The remaining four places will be split between countries from the central and southern regions in a regional qualifying competition. Sudan were favoured after forcing a 1-1 draw in Bujumbura and first-leg scorer Nadir El Tayeb struck again 18 minutes into the return game. However, Gilbert Kaze levelled five minutes after half-time and the Burundians proved more accurate in the shootout.
There were many tense finishes in the other seven second legs with three settled by penalties, one by away goals and two by one-goal overall margins. It took the away-goal rule to decide the Congo-Congo DR derby in favour of the former, with Dimitri Bissiki scoring the only goal a minute from time. The 1-0 victory squeezed the Red Devils through after they lost the first leg 2-1 in the Democratic Republic of Congo three weeks ago.
Mali were indebted to goalkeeper Soumalia Diakite after losing 1-0 to Guinea in Conakry, but advancing 3-2 on aggregate. Diakite conceded a goal to Ibrahima Sory Camara just past the hour mark, but blocked a penalty from the same player soon after.
Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe are well placed to move on after their first-leg matches while the Cameroon-Gabon tie is finely balanced. Goals from Almiro Lobo, captain Dario Khan and Mario Sinamunda earned the Mozambicans an easier-than-expected 3-0 win over Namibia. The Namibians made their intentions clear by taking just one striker to Maputo, but conceded two goals within 10 second-half minutes.
Angola await the winners in a final-round qualifier having eliminated Swaziland during June with 1-0 home and away victories. Zimbabwe coach Ian Gorowa could not have wished for a happier debut as his side triumphed 3-0 over Mauritius in rain-lashed Curepipe.
Nelson Maziwisa bagged a brace and Milton Ncube one goal to virtually ensure the Warriors a second-round slot. They are likely to face Zambia for a place in South Africa after their northern neighbours forced a 1-1 away to Botswana. Cameroon returned to international football after FIFA lifted a ban by pipping Gabon 1-0 in Yaounde via a Jacques Haman penalty.