JOHANNESBURG, September 7 – Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien scored as Ghana defeated Sudan 2-0 in Accra Sunday to become the first African qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari gave the ‘Black Stars’ an early lead and Essien added a second soon after half-time, unleashing a drive that flew into the net at the near post.
The result coupled with closest challengers Benin and Mali drawing 1-1 in Cotonou a few hours before left a Ghanaian side boasting a 100 percent record with an unassailable seven-point Group D advantage.
It will be the second successive World Cup appearance for Ghana, who did best of the five African teams in Germany three years ago by reaching the knockout second round before losing 3-0 to defending champions Brazil.
A quarter of the 32 qualifiers for the first World Cup to be staged in Africa are known with Ghana joining Australia, Brazil, Japan, Netherlands, North Korea, South Korea and hosts South Africa.
Mali had threatened to put Ghanaian celebrations on hold by taking the lead through former France youth international Mamadou Samassa on 71 minutes only for Mohamed Aoudou to equalise three minutes from full-time.
Tunisia snatched a 2-2 draw in Nigeria thanks to an 90th-minute Oussama Darragi goal in a top-of-the-table Group B clash to maintain a two-point lead with two rounds left.
A capacity 60,000 crowd saw Osaze Odemwingie fire the ‘Super Eagles’ into the lead with a close-range shot midway through the first half only for Nabil Taider to level soon after from a superb curling drive.
Michael Eneramo converted a low cross 10 minutes from full-time to put the home team ahead again only for Darragi to hammer a Haitham Mrabet pass into the net from an acute angle.
Mozambique edged Kenya 1-0 in the same group courtesy of a goal midway through the second half from veteran South Africa-based striker Manuel ‘Tico Tico’ Bucuane.
Tunisia have eight points, Nigeria six, Mozambique four and Kenya three with the leaders chasing a fourth consecutive appearance at the quadrennial showcase of international football.
Adel Taarabt scored two minutes into stoppage time as Morocco were rewarded for some enterprising second-half play with a 1-1 draw away to Togo in a Group A clash.
Togo led from the fourth minute through Moustapaha Salifou as they returned to Lome after a three-match ban following post-match violence at a 2008 African Nations Cup qualifier.
Gabon have six points, Togo five, Cameroon four and Morocco three although the ‘Indomitable Lions’ have a chance to go top Wednesday when they host the surprise pacesetters in Yaounde.
The five group winners qualify for the World Cup in South Africa between June 11 and July 11 and the top three finishers in each mini-league secure places at the Nations Cup five months earlier with hosts Angola.