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Sports News of Monday, 25 March 2019


Winners and losers of 2019 AFCON qualifiers

Winners: South Africa should have wrapped up qualification much earlier in the campaign, but draws against Libya at home and—remarkably—the Seychelles away meant that qualification went down to a final-day showdown against the North Africans. Ultimately, Percy Tau was the hero for Stuart Baxter’s side, scoring twice—either side of Ahmad Benali’s penalty, as Bafana advanced past a tricky foe and a cagey away day in Sfax. Despite their hiccups, South Africa ended the qualifying campaign having conceded only twice; only Ghana and Kenya conceded fewer goals, and they only played four matches.

Losers: Gabon - While Burundi’s maiden qualification for the Afcon is a superb success story, Gabon were the fall guys in that miraculous narrative. The Panthers have been beset by in-fighting and federation turmoil for several years, while the uncommitted approach of star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been an unwanted distraction. Still, they should have had the quality to progress from a group containing Mali, and Burundi and South Sudan, neither of whom had ever qualified for the tournament. Ultimately, they miss out after being held 1-1 in Bujumbura. Few will be sympathetic.

Winners: Cameroon - After being stripped of hosting rights for the 2019 tournament amidst domestic security issues and concerns about the nation’s capacity to accommodate the expanded tournament, Cameroon learned—ahead of the final matchday—that they’d have to qualify via their Group B placement. This meant needing to beat Comoros—a side against whom they’d drawn away at the start of Clarence Seedorf’s tenure—in Yaounde. They ultimately cruised past the islanders in style, with goals from Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, Christian Bassogog and Clinton N’Jie securing an emphatic 3-0 victory. Next challenge: retain their title in Egypt.

Losers: Togo met Benin in (almost) a straight shootout to reach the Afcon, with only one of the duo able to progress—alongside Algeria—to the tournament proper. Even though old warrior Emmanuel Adebayor cancelled out David Djigla’s opener in the 72nd minute, leaving the Sparrow Hawks a goal away from qualification in Cotonou, they were unable to find the winner. Instead, embattled Huddersfield Town striker Steve Mounie bagged an 83rd-minute winner for the hosts as they reach the Afcon for the first time since 2010. Could Benin be dark horses later this year?

Winners: Tanzania - Just as Uganda ended their 39-year absence from the continental high table by qualifying for the 2017 tournament, so Tanzania ended their own 39-year wait for an Afcon showing this time around, as they booked their spot in Egypt. Guess who they beat en route to the tournament!? Previously unbeaten Uganda, who hadn’t conceded before this final qualifier, were dispatched in some style, as Tanzania romped to an inspired 3-0 victory. Emmanuel Amuneke deserves immense credit for overseeing the Taifa Stars’ immense progress during the course of the campaign.