Nigeria, Algeria open with wins in African Cup qualifying
Nigeria and Algeria opened their 2017 African Cup of Nations qualifying campaigns with wins on Saturday to avoid the fate of Guinea, who lost to minnow Swaziland.
Nigeria beat Chad 2-0 at home to take early control of its group. Algeria won 4-0 at home against Seychelles, helped by two goals from forward El Arbi Soudani.
Mali and Senegal also won in the first round of qualifiers for the African championship in Gabon in two years.
Guinea lost 2-1 to Swaziland in neutral Morocco on Friday to start the qualifying competition with a major surprise. Form was restored when Tunisia overpowered Djibouti 8-1. Morocco edged North African rival Libya 1-0.
Africa’s teams are split into 13 groups, with the group winners and two best second-place teams qualifying for the finals alongside host nation Gabon.
With coach Stephen Keshi back in charge following a long contract re-negotiation, Nigeria eventually broke down Chad after an hour with a goal by striker Gbolahan Salami. Odian Ighalo won and converted a late penalty, but Nigeria finished with 10 men in Kaduna with Lazio midfielder Ogyeni Onazi sent off for pushing an opponent in the moments after the penalty was awarded.
Algeria, Africa’s top-ranked team, cruised past Seychelles in Blida with Soudani’s first-half double and second-half goals by Islam Slimani and Tottenham’s Nabil Bentaleb.
Mali beat South Sudan 2-0 and Senegal won 3-1 over Burundi.
The biggest surprise of the opening two days of African Cup qualifying was easily Guinea’s slip up against Swaziland. Tony Tsabedze scored both goals for Swaziland, sealing victory with a late winner in neutral Morocco.
Also Friday, Tunisia had no problem in asserting its dominance over Djibouti by winning 8-1.
Zimbabwe overcame a 22-hour road trip to win 2-1 in Malawi on Saturday and give their qualifying hopes an early boost. The Zimbabwean team missed their flight on Thursday because of a dispute with the national federation over unpaid bonuses and allowances. They then had to travel to Blantyre by bus, but the trip was made worthwhile when Khama Billiat’s attempted cross looped into the net for the 83rd-minute winner.
Zimbabwe was under pressure to make it to Malawi for the game or face the possibility of being thrown out of the competition by the Confederation of African Football.
South Africa made a lackluster start to qualifying with a 0-0 draw at home to Gambia, a game that was delayed for around four hours after some of the match officials arrived in the country late.
Uganda beat Botswana 2-0, former champion Zambia was held 0-0 at home to Guinea-Bissau and Angola comfortably beat Central African Republic 4-0.
Senegal’s big-name foreign-based players helped the team out against Burundi. Swiss-based striker Moussa Konate, Stoke’s Mame Biram Diouf and Southampton’s Sadio Mane scored the goals in Senegal’s 3-1 opening-round win.
Cape Verde nearly matched Tunisia’s impressive eight-goal performance against Djibouti by beating Sao Tome 7-1.
Ghana, Cameroon and Egypt start their campaigns on Sunday, while defending African champion Ivory Coast’s first qualifier is only in March next year.
Associated Press writers Aomar Ouali, Babacar Dione, Brahima Ouedraogo and Bouazza ben Bouazza contributed to this report.