Stripped of the right to host the tournament and plunged into the qualifying competition halfway through, Cameroon earned its place at the African Cup of Nations finals and the chance to defend its title with a confident 3-0 win over Comoros on Saturday.
Eric Choupo-Moting, Christian Bassogog and substitute Clinton Njie scored for the reigning African champion, which negotiated heavy rain in Yaounde to join Morocco as the two teams to qualify from Group B.
The result cheered the Central African nation, which was dropped as host of this year’s tournament by the Confederation of African Football because of poor preparations and security risks. It was in danger of missing the tournament entirely until Saturday’s result in the final round of qualifiers.
But the 3-0 win may still not be the final word on Cameroon’s 2019 African Cup saga.
Comoros had already appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over Cameroon’s participation in qualifying and wants the African champion thrown out completely after it was dumped as host. CAS will rule on the case before the African Cup, which was moved to Egypt, kicks off in June.
The tournament is the first African Cup to be expanded to 24 teams, opening the way for some of Africa’s unheralded teams to qualify.
At least three countries will make their African Cup debuts in Egypt. Madagascar and Mauritania had already qualified and Burundi joined them after holding Gabon to 1-1 in Group C to collect the point it needed.
Burundi’s draw at a packed Prince Louis Rwagasore Stadium meant it ousted Gabon and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a spot at the tournament.
After starting cautiously, Burundi led through Cedric Amissi’s goal in the 76th minute. Omar Ngando’s own-goal with eight minutes to go gave Burundi a nervous finish. Victory for Gabon would have seen the Gabonese qualify instead.
Burundi held on to clinch the second qualifying place in the group behind Mali and make history for a country that has been trying to reach Africa’s top tournament since 1976. In the streets of Bujumbura, there was shouting and cheering, and car horns beeped incessantly in celebration.
“This is a great day in the history of football in Burundi,” coach Olivier Niyungeko said.
New host Egypt rounded off its qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw with Niger. Egypt coach Javier Aguirre fielded an experimental lineup that didn’t include Mohamed Salah. Salah still finished as joint-top scorer in the group with four.
Egypt had already qualified for the African Cup when it was chosen as the replacement host.
But complications arose when Cameroon, which was playing in the qualifiers for match practice, suddenly needed to qualify after losing the tournament hosting. Part of Comoros’ argument to sport’s highest court is that the situation changed in the middle of the qualifying competition.
Battered by Cyclone Idai, Mozambique found no solace in soccer on Saturday.
Needing to win to have any chance of qualifying, Mozambique led Guinea-Bissau 2-1 with an 89th-minute goal from substitute Nelson Divarasson before conceding an equalizer deep in injury time to end its chances.
That meant Guinea-Bissau and Namibia qualified from Group K.
Nineteen of the 24 teams to qualify are known, and the remaining five places will be decided on Sunday, when the tiny mountainous kingdom of Lesotho could become the fourth debutant, and Libya could belie years of civil war to make its return to the African Cup.
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