Monday 06 June 2016, 02:31

Big boys line up for African finals

For the first time in their history Guinea-Bissau will play at the continental finals after they joined six other countries in qualifying for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2017 in Gabon on the weekend. There was less success for a trio of former champions as Zambia, South Africa and Sudan were eliminated and will have to watch from the sidelines as the 16 best teams on the continent gather next year to try and qualify for the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017.

Highlights Guinea-Bissau shock group When the draw for the group phase of the qualifying competition was made, Guinea-Bissau were placed in pot four with the continent's minnows. But with one matchday remaining, the Djurtus have already qualified from Group E at the expense of larger footballing countries Congo, Kenya and Zambia after beating the latter - who were 2012 African champions - 3-2. Guinea-Bissau took the lead early on through a Zezinho penalty, while Collins Mbesuma found the equaliser before the break, only for Frederic Mendy to thrill the huge crowd in the capital Bissau ahead of half-time. Christopher Katongo levelled matters shortly after the break, but deep in injury time, Brito scored the historic goal for his side and the country erupted into celebrations

Uganda and Burkina Faso to the wire Group D favourites Uganda and Burkina Faso secured away wins to take ten points into their final matchday. The Stallions, who won 1-0 in the Comoros, have an edge, as they are ahead on the head-to head tie-breaker against Uganda, who beat Botswana 2-1 in Francistown. Both sides, however, remain in contention for one of the places reserved for the two best runners-up.

Togo dig deep to stay in the race New Togo coach Claude Le Roy watched as his side came back from two goals down in Monrovia to snatch a 2-2 draw against Liberia and keep his side's hopes of qualifying alive. The Lone Stars lead Group A on 10 points, even with Tunisia, who secured a 3-0 win in Djibouti, but with the tie-breaker advantage. However, they must travel to Tunisia in September's matchday, while Togo, on eight points, host pointless Djibouti.

Giants stay strong Morocco, who won the competition in 1976, earned a 1-1 draw in Libya with Nabil Dirar opening the scoring in the first half. Sanad Al Ouarfali found an injury-time equaliser for Libya, but the hosts are still eliminated as Morocco's lead atop Group F is unassailable. Cape Verde Islands are second after their 2-1 victory in Sao Tome and Principe and can qualify for their third finals on the trot. Senegal also qualified after continuing their domination of Group K, staying undefeated with two goals from their English Premier League players, Sadio Mane and Mame Biram Diouf, away to Burundi. Ghana also booked their ticket with a 2-0 win in Mauritius, although they had to wait until late in the second half for goals from Andre Ayew and Christian Atsu.

Upsets Swaziland knock out Guinea Quarter-finalists at the last competition in 2015, Guinea were expected to maintain the pressure on Group L leaders Zimbabwe with a victory in Swaziland, but it was not to be as striker Sabelo Ndzinisa scored the only goal of the match for the Sihlangu Semnikati. As Zimbabwe won their game against Malawi 3-0 to give them an insurmountable three-point lead over Swaziland, the Warriors go through, while the Swazis can still dream of an unlikely qualification as one of the best runners-up. Guinea, who have just five points from their five matches, are eliminated.

CAR beat Angola Just ten years ago, the Palencas Negras were playing at the FIFA World Cup™. Since then, their footballing fortunes have been mixed at best, and a 3-1 defeat in Bangui against the Central African Republic means the southern Africans can no longer make it to Gabon. Congo DR, who won 6-1 in Madagascar, lead Group B ahead of their table-topping match against CAR, who have two points less.

Player of the weekend Egypt continued their good form as Serie A-based striker Mohamed Salah scored both goals for the Pharaohs in a 2-0 victory in Dar es Salaam against Tanzania. The win qualifies Egypt for a record 23rd finals, but their first since 2010.

The stat 9 - The number of teams that have qualified for the finals in Gabon, which leaves seven places to be decided on the final matchday at the start of September. Guinea-Bissau, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Morocco, Algeria, Cameroon, Senegal and Egypt are qualified along with the hosts.

What they said “The coach told me to shoot when I am within range, and I did exactly that in the second half and the rest, as they say, is history. With the team leading 2-0 and cruising, I told myself ‘give it a go’, and boy I have never felt so good. But more is still to come, watch this space,” South African striker Keagan Dolly, who scored two goals to prolong Bafana's dream of qualifying alive with a 4-0 victory in Gambia. Unfortunately, the dream was quashed a day later as they no longer have a chance of finishing as one of the two best runners-up. Cameroon won their group and qualified with a 1-0 victory in Mauritania.