JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Oct 16 – Madagascar, for the first time, Senegal and former champions Tunisia and Egypt sealed places at the Africa Cup of Nations finals Tuesday with two matchdays to spare.
Njiva Rakotoharimalala scored four minutes before half-time to earn Madagascar a 1-0 Group A victory over Equatorial Guinea on the vast Indian Ocean island.
In the same mini-league, Senegal left it late in Sudan to win 1-0 with Sidy Sarr heading the lone goal four minutes from time in Khartoum.
Senegal and Madagascar have 10 points each from four matches, seven more than nearest rivals Equatorial Guinea with two rounds left, and the top two finishers in each section qualify.
Tunisia and record seven-time title-holders Egypt secured places in Cameroon next June with away victories in Group J over Niger and eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) respectively.
A Firas Chaout brace brought 2004 champions Tunisia a 2-1 win in Niamey and Ahmed Hegazy and Marwan Mohsen netted as Egypt cruised to a 2-0 victory in Manzini.
It was the second 1-0 victory for the Malagasy over the Equatoguineans within four days after captain Faneva Andriatsima scored the winner last Saturday,
They qualified despite having to play a preliminary tie, won 4-2 on aggregate against Sao Tome e Principe, and being seeded last behind Senegal, Equatorial Guinea and Sudan.
Qualification for the Malagasy came after 18 failed attempts, with French coach Nicolas Dupuis’ most common starting eleven comprising four players based in France, one each in Algeria, Belgium, Egypt, Reunion, Saudi Arabia and Thailand, and one local.
After Chaout netted twice within four minutes, Youssef Oumarou pulled one goal back before half-time for Niger, who could not prevent leaders Tunisia maintaining their perfect record.
Second-place Egypt were too classy for eSwatini despite lacking injured star Mohamed Salah, who strained a thigh muscle during a win over the same opposition in Cairo last Friday.
– Hegazy used aerial strength –
Defender Hegazy used his aerial strength to nod the ‘Pharaohs’ in front on 19 minutes and Mohsen doubled the lead soon after half-time.
On a happy day for Indian Ocean island states, the Seychelles held South Africa 0-0 in Victoria and the Comoros snatched a late 2-2 draw with Morocco in Mitsamiouli.
Although neither the Seychellois nor the Comorans are contenders for places at the 24-nation finals, they will be encouraged by the results against much higher ranked rivals.
The Seychelles are 189th in the world, 116 places below South Africa, while the 149th-ranked Comoros are 104 places lower than Morocco.
El Fardou Ben Nabouhane from Red Star Belgrade put the Comorans ahead on eight minutes in Mitsamiouli and levelled in the final minute after Khalid Boutaib and Nordin Amrabat scored.
Cameroon, automatic qualifiers but playing in Group B to gain competitive match practice, drew 0-0 with Malawi in Blantyre to remain leaders with eight points, one ahead of Morocco.
After celebrating slamming six goals past the Seychelles in Johannesburg last Saturday, South Africa suffered the embarrassment of dropping two Group E points in Victoria.
Lebo Mothiba was foiled by the woodwork just after half-time and South African team-mate Percy Tau had a goal disallowed in a marginal offside decision.
South Africa later surrendered the group leadership to Nigeria, who completed a double over Libya with a dramatic 3-2 away triumph.
Nigeria built a two-goal lead within 17 minutes of the kick-off in a match moved to Tunisian city Sfax for security reasons only for Libya to score either side of half-time.
But Odion Ighalo, who scored a hat-trick last Saturday, once again broke the hearts of the gallant Libyans with an 81st-minute goal, his second of the match.