South Africa became the last team to qualify for the African Cup of Nations on Sunday, completing the expanded 24-team field for the finals in Egypt in June and July.
Zimbabwe also made it on the last day of qualifying by winning in the midst of two tragedies.
Benin, Congo and Tanzania joined South Africa and Zimbabwe in taking their last chances and they will all be part of the first African Cup to be increased from 16 to 24 teams.
South Africa took the 24th spot after beating Libya 2-1 in neutral Tunisia, ending the Libyans’ hopes in the process and enraging Libyan supporters who made the trip to the city of Sfax. They threw bottles onto the field for almost the entire second half of the Group E game.
Striker Percy Tau scored both goals for Bafana Bafana.
Zimbabwe earlier beat Republic of Congo 2-0 in Group G to reach the tournament in the shadow of two tragedies.
The game came just a week after more than 200 people were killed in the eastern part of Zimbabwe by Cyclone Idai. Hundreds more are still missing. Then, before kickoff at the National Stadium in Harare, a female fan died in a stampede, according to local media reports.
Khama Billiat and captain Knowledge Musona scored the goals for Zimbabwe as supporters in the capacity crowd held up placards with the message “Please Do This For Our Cyclone Idai Victims.”
Idai devastated parts of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi and more than 750 people have died in the three southern African countries in the latest count. Players wore black armbands for the game in Harare and stood for a moment’s silence. A period of national mourning in Zimbabwe for the cyclone victims ended on the day of the match.
“A game like this can make people happy and smile in sad moments that we are facing,” Zimbabwe captain Musona said.
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Tanzania will play at its first African Cup in 39 years after a 3-0 win over Uganda gave it the second qualifying spot in Group L behind the Ugandans. The victory made Tanzania coach and former Nigeria international Emmanuel Amunike a national hero less than a year after he took over the team.
The Tanzania players also responded positively to a government promise of $5,000 for each man should the team qualify for just its second African Cup and first since 1980.
Benin beat Togo 2-1 in Group D to deny the Togolese a place. Emmanuel Adebayor scored a 72nd-minute equalizer for Togo but Steve Mounie’s late winner made certain for Benin.
Congo beat Liberia 1-0 to take the second qualifying place in Group G behind Zimbabwe.
Tau was South Africa’s hero as the game against Libya came alive in a dramatic 20-minute spell after halftime. South Africa needed just a draw to qualify while Libya had to win.
Tau put South Africa ahead in the 49th minute with a powerful left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area. Ahmad Benali equalized with a penalty in the 65th after South Africa goalkeeper Darren Keet made contact with a Libyan player’s face with his foot as he went up to catch the ball.
The South Africans argued furiously with Moroccan referee Noureddine El Jaafari’s decision.
Libya had an earlier penalty appeal for handball turned down, which prompted fans to start lobbing bottles and lighting flares.
The bottle-throwing got worse after Tau re-established South Africa’s lead just three minutes after the Libyan equalizer. South Africa worked a set move from a corner and Tau fired in a right-footer this time from the left edge of the area, curling the ball inside the far post.
Libya was hoping to put aside years of conflict at home — and not being able to play games in its own country because of security concerns — by making it to the African Cup finals. At the final whistle, some Libyan players slumped to their knees and others lay on their backs as the South Africans celebrated around them.
Mohamed Salah’s Egypt will host the African Cup and Sadio Mane’s Senegal will also be there, as will Nigeria and defending champion Cameroon. But the expanded field has opened the way for some of Africa’s lesser-known teams: Madagascar, Mauritania and Burundi will all be making their debuts and Tanzania and Guinea-Bissau just their second appearances.
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