Uganda Cranes pick up valuable away point as going gets tough for Sudan, Ethiopia in openers

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On Saturday, Uganda’s quest for a place in the 2015 AFCON finals in Morocco next January got off to a good start and perhaps a good omen when they stood against Ghana in a 1-1 draw in Kumasi.

Tony Mawejje netted for Uganda Cranes in the first half before Andre Ayew equalised for the Black Stars just after half-time from the penalty spot.

The home side may have stolen a point but their performance will have done nothing to appease their disgruntled supporters.

Uganda had played a friendly in mid-week, falling 0-2 to Niger in Niamey where one of the Cranes’ players, Andrew Mwesigwa, was sent off. Pundits saw this as hardly a morale booster and there were question marks on the choice of the friendly so close to a crucial tie.

However, Uganda will be vindicated by the stout performance in Kumasi. The Cranes’ only previous appearance in the AFCON finals was in Idi Amin era when, incidentally, they reached the 1978 Final against Ghana in Accra. The Cranes lost 0-2.

Ghana are a world class team and Uganda can be happy about their own potential and hopeful of being one of two teams to qualify from Group ‘E’ also including Guinea and Togo.

Other 2015 African Cup of Nations Qualifiers Results:

Sunday, Sep 7:

Group ’B’:Mali 2-0 Malawi

Saturday, Sep 6:

Group ‘A’: Nigeria 2-3 Congo

Sudan 0-3 South Africa

Group ’B’:

Ethiopia 1-2 Algeria

Group ‘C’:

Burkina Faso 2-0 Lesotho

Gabon 1-0 Angola

Group ‘D’:

DR Congo 0-2 Cameroon

Cote d’Ivoire 2-1 Sierra Leone

Group ‘E’:

Ghana 1-1 Uganda

Guinea 2-1 Togo

Group ‘F’:

Zambia 0-0 Mozambique

Niger 1-3 Cape Verde

It was a day of great drama as Congo Brazzaville beat Nigeria 3-2 in Calabar.

Disastrous

Sudan had a disastrous start to the campaign, their ridiculous preparations being exposed in a 3-0 defeat on Friday in Khartoum by South Africa who had never played the Sudanese before.

Ethiopia were also left in a deep hole following a 1-2 home loss to visiting Algeria and will have to raise themselves up during a mid-week visit to Malawi. Fortunately, it might be a good time against a demoralised Malawi who lost 0-2 to Mali on Sunday, a match that was postponed on Saturday after heavy rains.

Here is how some of the 2015 AFCON qualifying matches unfolded

Nigeria 2-3 Congo Brazzaville

Congo Brazzaville produced a shock victory by beating Nigeria 3-2 in their Group ‘A’ match in Calabar.

Even more shocking was that Congo was a last-minute replacement team for Rwanda who CAF [African Football Federation] ejected because one of the Rwanda players, Dady Birori was discovered using two different passports with different birth dates.

Nigeria fell apart in quite extra-ordinary fashion in Calabar – a reflection perhaps of the chaos engulfing Nigerian football at the moment. The reigning African champions took the lead against Congo after 13 minutes when Efe Ambrose’s header managed to find a way past Congo goalkeeper Massa Chansel.

Slack marking

But the lead did not last long as Prince Oniangue took advantage of some slack marking and equalised for the Red Devils two minutes later.

As Nigeria struggled to find drive and creativity, disaster struck.

Just moments after goalkeeper Austin Ejide had done well to keep out a superb free kick by Francis Nganga, the visitors went in front on 40 minutes when Thievy Bifouma finished off a fine move.

Penalty

Bifouma struck again in the 53rd minute when he converted a penalty awarded when he was fouled by Ogenyi Onazi inside the box.

Gbolahan Salami then gave the home side a glimmer of hope when he reduced the arrears with less than five remaining.

But the Red Devils held on for a famous victory.

Performance

Nigeria captain Austin Ejide admitted they lost to a better side.

“They dominated and deservedly won. We underrated them and paid dearly. They were more aggressive and played like the home side here. A poor performance on our part.”us

Focus

As for Congo’s Thievy Bifouma, who netted two goals for his country, he was proud of their performance.

“We worked hard. We knew we were facing a big side in Africa and we played our own game and we are proud of ourselves. We need to focus on Sudan on Wednesday now.”

Ethiopia 1-2 Algeria

Frenchman Christian Guorcuff marked his first competitive game in charge of Algeriawith a 2-1 win over Ethiopiain Addis Ababa on Saturday.

Guorcuff took over from Vahid Halilhodzic, the man who led the Desert Foxes to the knock-out stages of the World Cup, and must have been pleased with what he saw on the pitch.

Ruin

Hillel Soudani and Yasin Brahimi struck either side of half-time to ruin Portuguese coach Mariano Barreto’s first competitive as Ethiopia’s head coach.

Saladin Said gave the local fans something to shout about when he reduced the deficit from the penalty spot deep in stoppage time.

Occasions

The Walya Antelopes started brightly and threatened to score on at least two occasions in the opening 10 minutes.

But once the North Africans found their rhythm, the home side struggled to cope.

Sudan 0-3 South Africa

At Merreikh Stadium where local authorities had ordered free entry to create a charged atmosphere that home crowd cheered on their stars with great optimism. But it was utter shock and wonder whether Sudan logistics contributed to the doom of a 3-0 defeat by South Africa.

Coach Mohammed “Mazda” Abdallah had previously opted his team to play a friendly at South African neighbours Zambia. The Sudanese slumped 3-0 and had to return to Khartoum hoping to recover in time for South Africa.

Encounter

It was a bemused Sudanese side that South Africa found on their first ever encounter with Sudan at senior level.

Ephraim [Shakes] Mashaba’s first game in charge was a success as Bafana Bafana mesmerised Sudan on Friday in Omdurman.

After being pushed to their half for the better of the opening minutes, Bafana Bafana responded positively by scoring three goals in the second half to wrap up victory in grand style.

Wasteful

The Desert Hawks threw everything at Mashaba’s men, but were wasteful in front of goal whilst South African goalie Senzo Meyiwa also pulled some good saves to deny the hosts.

Two minutes into the game, Sudan forced through two corner kicks but nothing came out of it. Few minutes later, Tokelo Rantie was also gifted with two opportunities to put the visitors in the lead but failed to make good of them.

Busier

The South African defence were kept busier from both left and right flank with Ramadan Agab and Bakri Abdul Gadir attacking from either side.

The South Africans were solid in the middle marshalled by Dean Furman, relying on the counter attack led by Rantie. Bafana Bafana appeared the better team in second half and came out with a much more attacking intent. Mashaba introduced Sibusiso Vilakazi for Rantie, and the former broke the deadlock on 55 minutes from a goal mouth action.

Tap in

Four minutes later, Vilakazi doubled the lead with a bullet shot that Sudan goalie Al Moez Mahgoub could not handle for the second goal. On 79 minutes, Bongani Ndulula sealed victory with the third goal by tapping in a cross from the left.

Elsewhere Cameroon made a perfect start to life without their retired talisman Samuel Eto’o with a workmanlike 2-0 victory over an out-of-sorts DR Congo side in Lubumbashi on Saturday.

Clinton N’jie, the France-based striker, opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time before Vincent Aboubakar, who plays for Porto in Portugal, doubled the advantage with eight minutes remaining.

Rotten campaign

Despite winning back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations titles in 2000 and 2002, the Indomitable Lions have failed to qualify for the past two tournaments.

Sterner tests lie ahead, with Cote d’Ivoire also in this group, but after a rotten World Cup campaign, this win will give Volke Finke’s team plenty of confidence.

Appearance

The Congolese are looking to secure a second straight appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations after crashing out of the group stage in South Africa in 2013.

But they were severely handicapped after 21 minutes when captain Youssouf Mulumbu was taken off with a hamstring injury.

Cote d’Ivoiredefeated Sierra Leone2-1 in Abidjan. Kei Kamara had put Sierra Leone ahead with Seydou Doumbia and Gervinho sealing the win for The Elephants.

Derby

Zambia and Mozambique drew 0-0 in a southern African derby at the Levy Mwanawasa stadium in Ndola.

The Mambas went into the match with the weight of history on their shoulders – in 13 previous clashes against Chipolopolo, they had lost 11 times and drawn the other two.

In Tunis, Yacine Chikaoui scored a late penalty to give Tunisia a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Botswana

Dream start

Cape Verde produced an impressive display to beat Niger 3-1 in Niamey. Spain-based midfielder Garry pounced after just three minutes to give new Blue Sharks coach Luis Aguas a dream start.

Odair Fortes doubled the advantage 11 minutes later before Ze Luis added a third in the 24th minute. Veteran Niger striker Moussa Maazou pulled one back for the hosts after 34 minutes.

Wednesday

Cape Verde lead Group F with three points, two ahead of second placed Zambia who they meet on Wednesday in Praia.

The match between Mali and Malawi in Bamako was been postponed until Sunday because of heavy rain.

In the replay, Sunday, Mali won 2-0, surviving the sending-off of goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa.

France-based Samassa was shown the red card in the second half soon after striker Bakary Sacko from English Championship side Wolverhampton Wanderers had scored for the Eagles.

Another French Ligue 1 footballer, striker Cheick Tidiane Diabate from leaders Bordeaux, assured a home victory with a stoppage-time goal.

Malawi host Ethiopia on Wednesday in the second round of group matches, while Mali are away to 1990 African champions Algeria.

- Additional reporting by BBC Sport