JOHANNESBURG, February 9 – Hosts Sudan became the first qualifiers for the African Nations Championship quarter-finals with a 1-0 victory over Uganda Tuesday.
Midfielder Mudhather al-Tayeb scored on nine minutes to give the East Africans a second consecutive Group A win after edging Gabon by the same scoreline in the tournament opener last Friday.
Sudan have six points after two rounds in the biennial tournament for home-based footballers, Algeria four, Gabon one and pointless Uganda are out of contention for a knockout place.
Gabon kept alive hopes of making the last eight by snatching a stoppage-time goal to draw 2-2 with Algeria in the first half of a tense Khartoum Stadium double-header.
It was a heroic performance by the Gabonese, who had to play 50 minutes a man short because defender Remy Ebanega was red carded when cautioned a second time.
Playing at home in the sauna-like conditions of the Sudanese capital was always likely to prove a considerable advantage for the host nation and so it proved for the second time within five days.
Sudan once again scored an early first half goal and successfully defended the lead against a Ugandan team lacking Owen Kasule and Tony Odour, who were sent off in the 2-0 defeat by Algeria.
Al-Tayeb, who also scored the winner against Gabon, plays for Al-Hilal, who have dominated domestic football for decades with arch Omdurman rivals Al-Merreikh.
Gabon captain Johan Lengoualama punished a poor Algerian clearance to open the scoring on 53 minutes before the North Africans profited from the introduction of midfielder Hadj Aissa.
His cross allowed Hilal Soudani to head the equaliser past goalkeeper Stephane Moto and his second goal in the final minute appeared to have secured the three points for the Algerians.
But the celebrations proved premature as Ulrich Bembangoye rifled the ball into the net after a goalmouth scramble to keep Gabon in the hunt although the odds are against them.
The central Africans must defeat Uganda Saturday and hope Sudan overcome Algeria at the same time in which case goal difference will determine who finishes second on the table and advances to the quarter-finals.
Group action continues Wednesday in Wad Medani 200 kilometres south of Khartoum with surprise package South Africa facing fellow first-round victors Niger before Ghana and Zimbabwe become locked in a struggle for survival.