Three former champions lost at home at the start of the final round of qualifying for the 2019 African Cup of Nations on Saturday, with Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Zambia all slipping up.
Ivory Coast was beaten by Guinea 3-2 after leading 1-0 and 2-1, Nigeria lost to South Africa 2-0, and Zambia was upset by Mozambique 1-0.
Cameroon, the African champion and host of the next Cup of Nations in 2019, beat Morocco 1-0 with a goal by striker Vincent Aboubakar, the man who scored the winner for Cameroon in this year’s Cup of Nations final.
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Cameroon has its place at the 2019 tournament guaranteed as host but will still take part in the qualifying competition and collect points from games.
Qualifying comes down to 12 groups of four teams. The group winners and three best second-place teams qualify alongside the host team. If Cameroon wins its group, the second-place team can qualify. If Cameroon finishes second in its group, only the winner qualifies.
Ivory Coast, African champion in 2015, fell to a late winner from Guinea’s Naby Keita after Seydou Doumbia twice gave the Ivorians the lead in Abidjan.
South Africa enjoyed immediate success under new coach Stuart Baxter as he oversaw Bafana Bafana’s first ever competitive win over three-time African champion Nigeria. Second-half goals by Tokelo Rantie and Percy Tau took South Africa to its surprise win in the southern city of Uyo after Nigeria blew a number of good chances in the first 45.
Zambia, African Cup winner in 2012, was undone late on when Stanley Ratifo scored for Mozambique with a shot from a tight angle in the 90th minute.
Madagascar, Malawi, Burundi, Mali, Libya, Sierra Leone, Congo, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau also made winning starts to the group stage.
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Congo won the battle with neighboring Republic of Congo after a double from Cedric Bakambu.
Two of Burkina Faso’s stars of their run to the semifinals at this year’s Cup of Nations were on target in a 3-1 win over Angola as Aristide Bance scored twice and Bertrand Traore sealed victory.
Uganda’s qualifier in Cape Verde was postponed until Sunday after the Ugandan squad was stranded in Senegal because of technical problems with its airplane.
Ghana and Algeria start their final group campaigns on Sunday, and Tunisia hosts Egypt, the losing finalist at this year’s African Cup.