CAPE TOWN: Algeria secured a place at the next Africa Cup of Nations finals with a 1-0 away win over Niger on Monday that ensured a top-two finish in their qualifying group with two games to go.
They will join neighbours Morocco, who qualified last Friday without kicking a ball, in the field of 24-team for the finals in the Ivory Coast next January.
Nigeria, Congo, Guinea, Sudan and the Central African Republic, who have never previously qualified for the finals, were also winners on Monday.
Algeria’s Baghdad Bounedjah slipped through the defence in the fifth minute to put the visitors ahead as they costed to victory in Tunis, where Niger hosted the game after their own stadium was deemed inadequate for international competition.
Algeria had to come from behind to beat the same side at home last week with Riyad Mahrez scoring an 88th-minute winner — and as a result coach Djamel Belmadi made eight changes for Monday’s Group ‘F’ match, emphasising the depth at his disposal.
Algeria have 12 points and are assured of a top-two finish and qualification for the finals. Tanzania have four points, Niger two and Uganda one in the three-way race for the other ticket to Abidjan from the section.
Nigeria, also brimming with European-based players, were humbled last Friday in a shock home defeat by tiny Guinea Bissau but reclaimed top spot in Group ‘A’ with a 1-0 win in the return.
Moses Simon’s 30th minute penalty moved them to nine points after four rounds, followed by Guinea-Bissau (seven), Sierra Leone (five) and Sao Tome e Principe (one).
Ghana top Group ‘E’ after coming from behind to draw 1-1 in Angola, who were ahead through a 51st penalty from Reading’s Lucas Joao in only the second appearance for the former Portugal international who has switched allegiance.
Osman Bukari equalised some 20 minutes later and Ghana, in their second game under new coach Chris Houghton, hit the woodwork late on as they looked to snatch victory in Luanda.
They top Group ‘E’ on eight points with the Central African Republic moving into second spot after beating Madagascar 2-0 in neutral Cameroon with a double from Louis Mafouta. They have seven points with Angola down in third place on five.
Congo put themselves back in contention in Group ‘G’ as they won 1-0 away to South Sudan with Italian-based Gabriel Charpentier netting a last-gasp winner.
It was the third defeat in four matches for the Bright Stars and relegated them to last place, six points behind pacesetters Mali and three below second-placed Congo.
Naby Keita scored for Guinea as they edged Ethiopia 3-2 in Rabat to top Group ‘D’, while a spectacular bicycle kick from Muhamed Kome saw Sudan beat Group ‘I’ leaders Gabon 1-0 to move within a point.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2023
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