Zimbabwe only COSAFA side at Nations Cup

Zimbabwe will be the COSAFA region’s only representatives at the 2017 African Nations Cup finals after the final round of qualifiers was played over the weekend.

There were some close shaves for some of the continent’s big guns, but most progresses as expected for that will be a star-studded field of 16 teams in Gabon in January.

Jonathan Kodjia completed a busy week by scoring with a spectacular bicycle kick to secure for holders Ivory Coast a place, but they narrowly escaped elimination at the hands of Sierra Leone in Bouake on Saturday.

The striker, who signed for Aston Villa earlier this week before taking his place in the starting line-up for the African champions, scored the first goal in a 1-1 draw for the Ivorians, who need only a single point to book their place.

But they had a nervy passage as American-based striker Kei Kamara equalised in the 66th minute and then saw a header cleared off the line by Eric Bailly with the last touch of the game. A win would have handed Sierra Leone a return to the Nations Cup for the first time in two decades.

A second half penalty from Salahedine Said ensured Ethiopia edged the Seychelles 2-1 in Hawassa, while Senegal completed a clean sweep of their qualifiers by making it six out of six in Group K with a 2-0 win over Namibia in Dakar – the goals scored by Diao Balde Keita and Famara Diedhiou.

Ghana, who had already qualified in June, were stung by a late free kick equaliser from Muhadjiri Hakizimana and held 1-1 at home in Accra by lowly Rwanda.

Kelechi Iheanacho hammered home from outside the penalty area to hand Nigeria a 1-0 win over Tanzania in Uyo in Gernot Rohr’s debut as coach. But the Super Eagles had already been eliminated from the competition.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Uganda ended an almost four decade wait for a place in the African Nations Cup finals as Farouk Miya struck home the only goal to beat the Comoros Islands 1-0 in Kampala on Sunday.

Uganda finished second behind Burkina Faso in their group but took one of the two places reserved for the runners-up in the 13 qualifying groups.

They last played at the Nations Cup in 1978 when they were beaten in the final by hosts Ghana.

A last minute winner from Banou Diawara ensured Burkina topped Group D with a 2-1 home victory over nine-man Botswana as they were tettering on the brink of elimination.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo and Tunisia filled the other three berths decided on the last day of the qualifiers.

Togo was the other country to take a runners-up berth, edging out Benin and Ethiopia, who also finished on 11 points.

A 5-0 home win over Djibouti on Sunday ensured Togo had the better goal difference despite Emmanuel Adebayor missing a penalty.

The Congolese needed only draw at home to the Central African Republic, who had to win, but made sure they finished first in Group B with an emphatic 4-1 triumph in Kinshasa.

Neeskens Kebano, Firmin Mubele, Mpangi Bolingi and Jordan Botaka were the scorers for the hosts.

An early goal from Wahbi Khazri set Tunisia on their way to a 4-1 win over Liberia in Monastir which ensued top place in Group A. The home side also converted two penalties.

Already qualified Mali finished their campaign unbeaten with a 5-2 home triumph over Benin as did Algeria and Morocco. Morocco were expecting a goal feast against the tiny island nation of Sao Tome e Principe but mustered only a 2-0 win in Rabat after being jeered off at the end of a goalless first half by their own fans.

Riyad Mahrez, who hammered home a long range free kick, and El Arabi Soudani scored twice each as Algeria hammered Lesotho 6-0 with Soudani increasing his tally in the qualifiers to seven and finishing top scorer.

The Nations Cup finals will be held in Gabon from Jan. 14-Feb. 5.