South Africa players pay tribute to Meyiwa after sealing African Cup of Nations berth
CAPE TOWN, South Africa --
South African players stripped off their team jerseys Saturday to show white t-shirts with messages dedicated to slain captain Senzo Meyiwa as they qualified for the African Cup of Nations in their first game since his killing.
Bafana Bafana beat Sudan 2-1 in a game played in goalkeeper Meyiwa's hometown of Durban as a tribute, and then displayed the t-shirts as they celebrated qualification after fulltime.
''Well, I just wish he was here with us,'' new South Africa goalkeeper Darren Keet, who replaced Meyiwa in the lineup, said. ''That's what makes it the most emotional. He's not here with us and everything is done.''
South Africa's players also wore black armbands and there was a moment's silence before the game for Meyiwa, who was fatally shot in an apparent house robbery in a township near Johannesburg last month. The Sudanese team even held up a picture of the popular player before kickoff at Moses Mabhida Stadium in its own tribute.
South Africa then sealed its place in Equatorial Guinea early next year with goals by Thulani Serero and Tokelo Rantie either side of halftime. Salah Ibrahim pulled a late goal back for Sudan in front of just over 30,000 fans, some of whom waved posters of Meyiwa's image during the game.
Meyiwa had led South Africa through four games unbeaten in African Cup qualifying and hadn't conceded a goal in the competition to put his country on the brink of the continental championship before his shooting death on Oct. 26.
''His memory will stay with us,'' goalkeeper Keet said as South African players hugged and went on a lap of honor.
Cameroon, Zambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Gabon also secured their places at the African Cup of Nations on Saturday alongside new tournament host Equatorial Guinea. Ghana lost 1-0 in Uganda and Mali fell 2-0 in Malawi to keep them waiting until the final round of qualifying games next week following those surprise away defeats.
Four-time champion Cameroon made sure of a place at the 2015 African Cup finals with a 1-0 win over Congo after Vincent Aboubakar's 71st-minute winner. That ensured the Cameroonians will finish top of Group D, with Ivory Coast and Congo left to battle it out for the second automatic spot from the group.
Zambia, the 2012 African Cup winner, qualified alongside Cape Verde from Group F after a 1-0 win in Mozambique. Senegal won 1-0 in Egypt through Mame Diouf's early goal to make certain of its progress and leave the record seven-time champion Egyptians hoping to qualify as the one best third-place team.
Defending champion Nigeria revived its chances under coach Stephen Keshi, who has been re-appointed after being fired last month. Nigeria won 2-0 in Republic of Congo to move second in Group A behind South Africa. Spain-based striker Ikechukwu Uche repaid Keshi for his first call-up in nearly two years with the opener from the penalty spot in the 59th minute, and Aaron Olanare swept in the second in the 90th.
Ghana was upset in Uganda and Mali suffered a bigger shock when it lost in Malawi.
A rebound looped into the corner of Mali's net for the opening goal in the 65th for Malawi's Robert Ng'ambi. Essau Kanyenda then powered a header home with four minutes to go to give the Malawians a chance of qualifying with one of their most memorable recent victories, sending thousands of red-shirted fans jumping up and down as one in the concrete stands at Kamuzu Stadium.
Algeria, Cape Verde and Tunisia had already qualified before Saturday's games, while Equatorial Guinea was named the new tournament host on Friday in place of Morocco, which was dumped for requesting a delay over Ebola fears. Fifteen teams will ultimately qualify for the Cup of Nations finals alongside the new host.