- All 24 participants at 2019 Cup of Nations now known
- Three teams appearing for the first time
- Tanzania back after 39-year absence
After Angola secured their place on Friday, and Burundi, Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau and Namibia the following day, the final five berths for the 2019 CAF African Cup of Nations were snapped up on Sunday 24 March by Zimbabwe, Congo DR, Benin, Tanzania and South Africa.
Burkina Faso, Gabon, Togo and Zambia will be the most notable absentees from the 32nd edition of the tournament, which will take place in Egypt from 21 June to 19 July. It will be the first Cup of Nations to feature 24 teams, expanded from 16 in previous editions. The tournament draw will be staged on 12 April in Cairo, with the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids as the backdrop.
Three teams will be making their tournament debuts when the continental showdown gets underway in June. Madagascar surprised everyone by being among the first to qualify last October, while Mauritania stamped their ticket a month later with a game still to play. However, among the unexpected qualifiers, the most surprising are undoubtedly Burundi, currently occupying 138th spot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
After taking a point away to Gabon on the second matchday and then twice drawing with Mali last October, the Swallows needed just a point from their home fixture on Saturday 23 March against the Gabonese, who were also vying for qualification. However, there was to be no denying the hosts, who held on for a 1-1 draw, as their ecstatic home supporters celebrated the incredible achievement.
Tanzania and Benin back
In securing their berth on the final matchday with a resounding win at home to Uganda (3-0), Tanzania finally ensured another appearance at the continental championship 39 years after their one and only participation in 1980.
In the intervening years the east African nation endured multiple disappointments through a combination of eliminations and withdrawals. However, the appointment of Emmanuel Amunike as coach in August 2018 was the catalyst for change, with the Nigerian legend eventually guiding the Taifa Stars to second place in Group L behind Uganda.
Meanwhile in Group D, Benin got the better of Togo (2-1) on the final matchday to take the section’s final ticket to Egypt behind Algeria. After a nine-year hiatus, the Squirrels will be appearing at their fourth Africa Cup of Nations and aiming to progress beyond the group stage for the first time.
All eyes on Group G
Ahead of the final weekend, nothing had been decided in Group G, where home advantage proved decisive in the eventual qualification of Zimbabwe and Congo DR, who recorded respective wins over Congo (2-0) and Liberia (1-0). Zimbabwe delighted their fans with a sumptuous free-kick by Khama Billiat followed by a superb volley from Knowledge Musona. Les Leopards also had one of their stars to thank, with Cedric Bakambu unlocking the Liberian defence early in the second half.
Timely brace for Tau
Away to a Libya side also in contention, South Africa grabbed the last ticket to Egypt thanks to a wonderful Percy Tau brace in their 2-1 win. The 24-year-old striker, who plays in the Belgian second division, opened the scoring with a thunderous shot from the edge of the area, then restored his side’s lead after a Libyan penalty with a curling strike into far corner.
While Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo top-scored during the qualifying campaign with seven goals, just behind him was Burundi striker Abdul Razak (six), who, at just 25, also became his country’s all-time leading scorer with 17 goals.