By Oluwashina Okeleji*
Former African champions Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Zambia all suffered home defeats on Saturday in their first group qualifiers for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
Nigeria, who failed to qualify for the last two editions of the tournament, fell to their first competitive defeat to South Africa, losing 2-0 in Uyo in the Group E match.
Second-half goals from Tokelo Rantie and Percy Tau sealed a deserved win for Bafana Bafana against three-time African champions Nigeria.
Rantie opened the scoring with a brilliant close-range header in the 54th minute.
Tau broke free in a swift counter-attack, putting the ball around goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi before slotting home in the 81st minute.
Nigeria fluffed chances in the first half as Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo and Simon Moses failed to score.
It was second time lucky for coach Stuart Baxter who was in charge when Bafana beat Nigeria 2-1 in the 2004 Nelson Mandela challenge at home.
|Friday:||Grp L: Cape Verde v Uganda (postponed to Sunday)|
|Grp A: Sudan 1-3 Madagascar||Grp G: DR Congo 3-1 Congo|
|Grp E: Libya 5-1 Seychelles||Grp I: Burkina Faso v Angola (1800)|
|Saturday:||Grp C: Mali v Gabon (1900)|
|Grp B: Malawi 1-0 Comoros||Grp A: Senegal v Equatorial Guinea (2000)|
|Grp C: Burundi 3-0 South Sudan||Grp H: Ivory Coast 2-3 Guinea|
|Grp K: Zambia 0-1 Mozambique||Sunday:|
|Grp I: Botswana 0-1 Mauritania||Grp G: Zimbabwe v Liberia (1300)|
|Grp B: Cameroon 1-0 Morocco||Grp H: CAR v Rwanda (1400)|
|Grp J: Niger 0-0 Swaziland||Grp D: Benin v The Gambia (1500)|
|Grp K: Guinea-Bissau 1-0 Namibia||Grp F: Ghana v Ethiopia (1530)|
|Grp E: Nigeria 0-2 South Africa||Grp D: Algeria v Togo (2100)|
|Grp F: Sierra Leone 2-1 Kenya||Grp J: Tunisia v Egypt (2200)|
|Grp L: Tanzania 1-1 Lesotho|
The twelve group winners plus the best three group runners-up will qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations along with the hosts Cameroon.
Seydou Doumbia’s brace was not enough for Ivory Coast as the Elephants were beaten 3-2 at home by Guinea in Group H.
Doumbia gave the home side a 15th minute lead, before Guinea equalised in the 32nd minute.
Naby Keita’s shot was spilled by goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo and Abdoulaye Sadio Diallo pounced on the rebound to put the visitors level.
Doumbia grabbed his second goal in the 62nd minute, but four minutes later France-based Francois Kamano made it 2-2.
However, the impressive Naby Keita sealed the stunning win for Guinea in the 79th minute to complete a bad start for new Ivory Coast manager Marc Wilmots.
The defeat for Ivory Coast in Bouake came just five days after the death of former Ivorian international Cheick Tiote.
In Ndola, former winners Zambia were left stunned by a late goal as they lost 1-0 to Mozambique at home in Group K.
Mozambique left it until the 89th minute to earn their first ever win over Chipolopolo with Germany-based Stanley Ratifo scoring the goal.
2012 African champions Zambia dominated the encounter for long spells but failed to turn their superiority into goals.
The Mambas made them pay for their profligacy when Ratifo finished brilliantly from a cut-back to stun the home side.
Elias Pelembe should have doubled the lead in added time but goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene rushed out of his box to stop the Bidvest Wits winger.
Coach Abel Xavier and the Mambas held on to celebrate a first triumph over Zambia in 18 attempts.
In the other Group K game, Guinea-Bissau beat visitors Namibia 1-0 thanks to a powerful header from Jerson in the 24th minute.
Veteran striker Aristide Bance scored twice as Burkina Faso beat Angola 3-1 in Group I.
Bance’s opening goal in the 22nd minute was quickly cancelled out by Gelson Dala a minute later.
Bance then restored the lead from the penalty spot just before half-time with Chelsea winger Betrand Traore scoring the third in the 79th minute.
Also in Group I, Mohamed Abdellahi Soudani’s second-half strike sealed a famous 1-0 win for Mauritania away to Botswana.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Gerald Phiri Junior scored the only goal as Malawi began their Group B campaign with a 1-0 home win over Comoros in Blantyre.
The South Africa-based winger hit a free-kick from outside the 18 yard box which flew over the wall and into the right corner on 31 minutes .
The flames had several chances but failed to punish a resolute Comoros.
It is a first competitive win for Malawi’s coach Ronny Van Geneugden who took over in April.
Malawi have taken an early advantage in the group after hosts Cameroon beat Herve Renard’s Morocco 1-0 in Yaounde.
A 29th minute goal from Vincent Aboubakar gave the Indomitable Lions the victory which puts Morocco bottom of Group B after the opening round of matches.
Cameroon qualify automatically as hosts for the 2019 Nations Cup, but their group matches still count as qualifiers for their opponents.
After the victory, Cameroon’s coach Hugo Broos confirmed that defender Oyongo Bitolo would definitely miss the Fifa Confederations Cup later this month.
The player was stretchered off the pitch after suffering a knee ligament injury which Broos said would keep him out of the game for seven months.
Burundi began their 2019 Nations Cup campaign in triumphant fashion by beating South Sudan 3-0 in Group C on Saturday.
The Swallows secured all three points with first half goals.
Cedric Amissi set the tone with the opening goal in the 15th minute.
Gael Duhayinnavyi added the second ten minutes later before Fiston Abdul Razak made it three in the 30th minute.
Mali face Gabon later on Saturday in the other Group C match.
In Freetown, goals from Julius Woobay and and Umaru Bangura penalty helped Sierra Leone make a winning start to their Group F campaign as they beat Kenya 2-1.
Kenya had Brian Mandela sent off but they did get a consolation goal through Michael Olunga. Ghana take on Ethiopia in that group on Sunday.
Spain-based Cedric Bakambu grabbed a brace as DR Congo beat neighbours Congo Brazzaville 3-1 in Group G.
Bakambu scored opened the scoring in the 20th minute.
Thievy Bifouma equalised for the visitors on the stroke of half-time.
Bakambu grabbed his second after 56th minute before Newcastle defender Chancel Mbemba ensured victory in the 90th minute.
The Group L match between Cape Verde and Uganda – scheduled for Saturday – had to be postponed to Sunday after some members of Uganda’s squad were delayed in Dakar en route to Praia.
In the other Group L game Tanzania drew 1-1 with Lesotho in Dar es Salaam.
Mbwana Samata put Tanzania ahead with Thapelo Tale hitting the equaliser for the visitors.
On Friday, Libya and Madagascar opened the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign with impressive victories.
Libya beat Seychelles 5-1 in Group A and in the first qualifier for Cameroon 2019, Madagascar were 3-1 winners away to Sudan in Al-Obeid in Group E.