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The Egyptians, title holders of the Africa Nations Cup, are not going to the finals

Egypt’s U-23 and Olympic team captained by well-experienced Ahmed Hassan, failed to qualify for the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations next year as they bottomed their Group G with only two points from five games after being beaten 2-1 by Sierra Leone.

Thus Egypt, which had won the tournament the last three times and seven overall, both records, will become the first defending champion not to make it to the next championship, this one taking place in 2012 in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

In Freetown, Sherif Suma snatched an early goal but Egypt’s Mohsen Marawan scored the equaliser 1-1. Just two minutes before the end Sierra Leone were awarded a penalty and Mohamed Bangura stepped up to earn a victory for the Leone Stars which gives them hope of reaching the finals.

Hani Ramzi, the manager, attributed the Pharaohs loss to the ruthless state of the pitch. “It greatly affected the players’ performance and it was a big obstacle.” He also blamed the loss on the lack of experience of the players. “They are still young but such matches will help them in gaining experience which will help them in their preparation for the 2012 London Olympic Games.”

Even before the match, Egypt’s chances of qualifying were virtually nil but the loss put the flame out entirely. Egypt played with its youngsters after it became all too obvious that qualifying was close to impossible.

Sierra Leone tied 1-1 with Egypt in the first leg in Cairo.

Elsewhere, Niger leapt to the top of Group G, with a 2-1 victory over South Africa in Niamey to put them top of the table. Dankwa Kofi put the home side ahead in the first half, heading home from a corner, before Mazour doubled their lead from close range. South Africa pulled one back through Jali but Niger held on for a win that puts them closer to a coveted appearance at the 2012 finals.

Senegal are through to the finals next year after a strong performance in Dakar to beat DR Congo 2-0. Two goals for Moussa Sow secured them an unassailable lead at the top of Group E on 13 points, five clear of Cameroon in second place. The Indomitable Lions banged in five goals in the second half — including a brace from Eric Choupa-Moting — to take them to eight points in the table. That means they still have a chance of going through as one of the best runners-up but it is a slim one.

Libya continued their qualifying campaign despite the upheaval back home. Their game against Mozambique was moved to Cairo and played behind closed doors, and the Libyans kept their campaign on track with a 1-0 win. Rabiyah Lafi got the only goal of the game and the result means that they will qualify if they beat Zambia in their final pool match next month. The Libyan team was wearing a new national team strip, sang a new national anthem and played under the flag of the rebel National Transitional Council.

In Group B, two second-half goals gave Nigeria a valuable 2-0 away win in Madagascar. The Super Eagles overcame poor playing conditions to claim victory in the last 20 minutes, with goals from skipper Joseph Yobo and a long- range effort from Obinna Nsofor sealing a much- needed win. The result puts them second in the group behind Guinea, who beat Ethiopia 1-0 to remain top of the table. Nigeria will now have to beat Guinea by at least two goals on the final day to top the group on the head-to-head rule.

In Group C, Zambia earned a 2-1 victory away to Comoros to put them top of the group and line up a winner-takes-all showdown in Lusaka against Libya in the final round of qualifiers. The Chipolopolo left it late to take all three points in Moroni, hitting a late winner, having earlier taken the lead through a Christopher Katongo goal, before seeing the Comoros equalise.

Morocco and the Central African Republic stay level on points at the top of Group D after a 0-0 draw, a result that will be of far more value to the Moroccans, on what could have been a tricky trip to Bangui. The Atlas Lions had plenty of chances in the first half and had a goal disallowed, but the home side managed to keep them at bay and exert their own share of pressure, with both sides drawing a blank in their penultimate qualifying fixture. The result leaves the group poised for final day drama, with Tanzania and Algeria also still in with contention, after drawing 1-1 on Saturday.

Kenya left it late to beat Guinea Bissau in Group J. It was 1-1 going into stoppage time at the end of their match when Denis Oliech stepped up with a dramatic winner. The Harambee Stars are now second in their group with seven points. On the other hand, the Angolan national soccer team, Palancas Negras shot up into second place in Group J after beating Uganda 2-0 in Luanda. Angola’s win brings them within one point of Uganda with one match remaining. Uganda still leads the group on 10 points and will welcome third placed Kenya in their final group match in Kampala while Angola travel to Guinea-Bissau.

Malawi have the edge in the race towards the automatic qualification spot for second place in Group K. The Flames were held to a 0-0 draw by Tunisia on Saturday, a result which leaves them tied on 11 points each behind the already qualified Botswana. But with head-to-head results counting in the event of a tie, Malawi’s two away goals in their 2-2 draw in Tunis would put them ahead.

In Group A Mali took a big step towards qualification with a 3-0 win over Cape Verde in Bamako.Cheick Diabate got two quick goals towards the end of the first half to put them in front and the win was sealed by Mahamand Traore with a stylish finish early in the second.

The Zimbabwe Warriors continued on a rich vein of form by beating the Lone Star of Liberia 3- 0 in Harare and move into second spot in Group A. With one match remaining, the Warriors’ win leaves them on eight points, one behind leaders Mali. Midfielder Willard Katsande opened the scoring 15 minutes into the game. Ovidy Karuru then capped a fabulous day’s work by scoring Zimbabwe’s second goal in the 43 minute with a header. Ajax Cape Town player, Khama Billiat completed the scoring in the 87th minute.

Ivory Coast already made sure of their place at the finals but they reaffirmed their quality with a 5-0 win over Rwanda in Kigali in Group H.

Arsena’s Gervinho created most of the success for the Elephants and helped himself to a goal right at the end to go with two from Wilfred Bony and one each from Didier Ya Konan and Salomon Kalou.

Namibia got a late win against The Gambia in Windhoek. Tangeni Shipahu got the only goal of the game, which puts the Brave Warriors level with The Gambia on three points each in this three-team pool – well behind the leaders Burkina Faso in Group F. But this group is confused by Namibia’s ongoing claim that the Burkinabe fielded an ineligible player against them. Their appeal to CAF has yet to be decided upon, but if the governing body of African football dismisses their claim then the Burkinabe have already done enough to go through to the finals from this group.

Ghana maintained their place at the top of Group I as they beat Swaziland 2-0 in Accra on Friday. Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan headed Ghana in front on eight minutes. Emmanuel Agyemang- Badu extended the home side’s lead in the 78th minute when he let fly from 20 yards. Ghana’s victory was blighted by an injury to Gyan, who was carried off the pitch before the break with what looked like a hamstring injury. (Agencies)

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