Egypt’s hopes all but gone, Ivory Coast qualifies

Egypt’s hopes of defending its title at next year’s African Cup

of Nations are all but gone after the seven-time continental

champion was held to a damaging 0-0 draw at home by South Africa in

qualifying on Sunday.

Egypt – which has won Africa’s top football tournament three

times in a row – is now almost certain to fail to qualify for the

first time in 33 years.

Egypt remains bottom of its group, six points off leader South

Africa with two games to go and with little chance of making Gabon

and Equatorial Guinea in 2012 – even as one of the two best

second-place teams.

Ivory Coast has qualified after a 6-2 win for Didier Drogba’s

team away at Benin. Ivory Coast is the second country – after

surprise package Botswana – to claim one of the 14 finals places on

offer in Africa’s 44-team qualifying competition.

There were 14 games across the continent on Sunday as the

competition passed the halfway mark.

A late equalizer by captain Joseph Yobo rescued a point for

Nigeria in Ethiopia, Sudan won to keep the pressure on top-ranked

African team Ghana, Libya was held to a surprise 1-1 draw by

Comoros and under-pressure Tunisia beat Chad 5-0 to revive its

campaign.

A desperate Egypt’s Group G fixture with South Africa was moved

to a military stadium in Cairo because of the threat of crowd

trouble, due to the African champion’s disastrous form and recent

sectarian violence in the city.

In a tense match with few clear-cut chances, South Africa

defended for long spells to claim a valuable point for their own

hopes – leaving Egypt still winless and on the brink of a shock

elimination.

The Pharaohs last failed to qualify for the African championship

in 1978 and have dominated the tournament over the past five

years.

Egypt coach Hassan Shehata did not attend the official

post-match press conference, increasing speculation the 2006, 2008

and 2010 Cup of Nations-winning coach will leave his job after

seven years in charge.

South Africa – which played without injured captain and

playmaker Steven Pienaar – leads the group by two points from

Niger.

”I’m happy with this result because we drew with the champions

of Africa in Cairo,” South Africa coach Pitso Mosimane said.

Four days after a surprise 4-1 win over Argentina – which is

being investigated by FIFA for match-fixing links – Nigeria needed

Yobo’s late goal to rally to a 2-2 draw away at Ethiopia in Group

B.

Despite first-half dominance from Ethiopia – under Belgian coach

Tom Santfiet for the first time – Ikechukwu Uche put Nigeria ahead

in the 26th minute.

A double by Saladin Said then had the home team leading before

Yobo rescued a point for Nigeria, which had played two games in

five days and looked fatigued after arriving in Addis Ababa at 2

a.m. on the day of the match.

”We didn’t play like we were supposed to,” Nigeria coach

Samson Sia said. ”We made too many mistakes.”

Nigeria trails group leader Guinea by three points after the

Guineans beat Madagascar 4-1 at home.

Drogba and Gervinho both scored twice as Ivory Coast improved

its perfect record to four wins in four matches to seal its place

at the next Cup of Nations.

Ivory Coast raced 3-0 ahead in Benin inside 30 minutes through

Didier Ya Konan, Drogba and Gervinho. Benin staged a brief

second-half fightback, pulling back to 3-2, but the Ivorians were

too strong. Burundi’s victory over Rwanda in the other Group H

fixture meant Ivory Coast can’t be caught at the top.

Botswana – which had already qualified – drew 0-0 at home with

Malawi and Tunisia’s comprehensive home win over Chad pushes the

Tunisians ahead of Malawi on goal difference in a tight race for

the second qualifying place in the five-team Group K.

Issam Jemaa hit a hattrick for 2004 African Cup winner Tunisia

to inspire victory.

Libya missed the chance to reclaim top spot in Group C when it

drew with Comoros and Mali fell to a 2-1 defeat against Group A

opponent Zimbabwe in a dramatic finish.

The Zimbabweans were awarded a last-minute penalty in Harare,

which sparked a mass brawl and red card for Mali’s Mahamadou

Diarra. Knowledge Musona scored with a retaken spot-kick and

Zimbabwe stole victory in a match it had to win to keep its hopes

alive.

Elsewhere, Congo won in Mauritius, Sudan edged Swaziland 2-1 to

join Ghana at the top of Group I and Angola beat Kenya 1-0.

Central African Republic surprised Tanzania 2-1 in an

extra-tight Group D, where Morocco leads on goal difference after

its 4-0 hammering of Algeria – one of six games on Saturday.

But Central African Republic – which is ranked 113 in the world

and has never been to the Cup of Nations – is just behind after a

fairytale qualifying run which has also included a win over World

Cup finalist Algeria.

Associated Press Writers Luc van Kemenade in Addis Ababa,

Ethiopia and Ahmed El-Sedawy in Cairo contributed to this

report.

Gerald Imray can be reached at

http://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP