Three-time African champions Nigeria have been eliminated from the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, while South Africa needs a footballing miracle to make it to the finals in Gabon. There was better news for record champions Egypt, as the Pharaohs have all but advanced to the finals for the first time since 2010, and for Comoros, who secured a first-ever victory in the competition.
Stars, Foxes and Lions on the brink
Although they were held to a goalless draw by Mozambique in Maputo, Ghana took a step toward Gabon after picking up three points a few days earlier. The west Africans' cause was further helped as Group H rivals Mauritius and Rwanda shared the spoils with a victory each to leave the Black Stars four ahead of the two, needing just a victory from one of their remaining two matches to secure their ticket. Similarly, Algeria's Fennecs secured a comfortable 7-1 victory against Ethiopia in their first match, and then followed that up with an exciting 3-3 draw against the same opponent to open up a five point lead from the Ethiopians in Group J. Islam Slimani scored three goals over the two legs. Senegal's 2-0 and 2-1 victories against Niger have given Les Lions de la Teranga a six-point lead in Group K and needing just one point from their two remaining matches. Moussa Konaté and Pape Souaré scored the goals for Senegal in the 2-1 victory on Tuesday in Niamey.
Bafana hang on, Atlas Lions in
South Africa, who won the competition at their first appearance at the finals in 1996, have all but been eliminated from the competition following two draws against Cameroon this week. Bafana's Hlompho Kekana made global highlight reels after scoring a wonder goal from 60 metres in the first match, which ended 2-2. “I always check how goalkeepers leave their lines, so after we dispossessed Cameroon I looked up and saw the 'keeper well off his line and I took a chance,” he explained. The two draws leave South Africa in third place with just three points, while Cameroon top Group M with eight points and Mauritania surprisingly closed the gap to a point. Cape Verde Islands are ranked the best team in Africa, but Morocco got the better of the island state in both matches, with Youssed El-Arabi scoring three goals. The striker, who plays his club football in Spain for Granada, secured the 1-0 victory in Praia and then grabbed both in a 2-0 victory in Marrakesh three days later to give coach Herve Renard a winning start with the Atlas Lions, who have secured the first spot in the finals other than the host Gabonese.
Minnows make history
Never before in their history had the Comoros won a match in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. In fact, the only competitive game they ever won was in 2009, when they beat Seychelles 2-1 in the regional COSAFA Cup competition. The long wait finally came to an end on Thursday, when Greece-based striker El Fardou Ben Nabouhane scored the only goal of the match as the Les Coelecantes secured a morale-boosting 1-0 victory against Botswana. In Group A alongside Togo and Tunisia, Liberia were not expected to feature strongly, but with two matches remaining the Lone Stars are two points ahead of both rivals after beating Djibouti 1-0 and 5-0. They will host the Togolese before travelling to Tunisia in the final matchday. Guinea-Bissau are ranked 45th in Africa and 147th in the world, but with two matchdays to play, they find themselves leading Group E ahead of Congo, Zambia and Kenya. The Djurtus secured two 1-0 victories against Kenya, while Congo and Zambia drew both their matches 1-1, to lead the Congolese and Zambians by a point.
Player to watch
Although Egyptian youngster Ramadan Sobhi is only just embarking on his football career, the winger has been involved in a number of match-winning situations. A few weeks ago he helped his club Al Ahly advance to the play-off rounds in the CAF Champions League, and on Tuesday he ensured the Pharaohs' are virtually guaranteed a place at the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 2010 with a 1-0 victory against Nigeria. The defeat sees the Super Eagles knocked out in the qualifiers – as they were last time around.
4 - The number of victories that Morocco and Senegal have achieved in the four qualifiers. They are the only teams with perfect records after four matches.
What they said
“For Gabon, the lights are getting dimmer and dimmer now. We don’t have to tell ourselves lies. But there is still something to play for. I think with this kind of performance, if we build upon it, we’ll definitely qualify for the World Cup,” South Africa coach Shakes Mashaba.