Nigeria finished third in their group [Getty Images]
Nigeria won’t get the chance to defend their title at the African Nations Cup next year after drawing 2-2 at home to South Africa on Wednesday to miss out on the finals on the last day of qualifying.
Nigeria scored two late goals to claim a frantic draw in front of a desperate home crowd. But Congo‘s 1-0 win in Sudan in Group A’s other game saw them spring the big surprise in qualifying and take the other automatic place behind the already-qualified South Africans.
The Nigerians also failed to secure a place at the 2015 tournament as the best third-place team across the seven groups.
Ivory Coast and Ghana left it late, but managed to qualify for the tournament in Equatorial Guinea in January and February, as did Guinea and Mali.
The Ivorians secured the point they needed with a 0-0 draw at home to Cameroon to finish second to the Cameroonians in Group D.
Ghana won 3-1 win at home against Togo to ensure they will be at the finals.
Needing a win to get the chance to defend the title they won last year in South Africa, Nigeria fell 2-0 behind in Uyo to a brace from Tokelo Rantie in six minutes either side of halftime.
The African champions gave themselves a glimmer of hope when Sone Aluko side-footed home in the 69th minute after a shot rebounded off the South African post. Aluko made it 2-2 deep into injury time with his second, but Nigeria couldn’t find a winner.
Ivory Coast overcame any last-day nerves they may have had to draw with Cameroon and just do enough earlier Wednesday. That result meant Democratic Republic of Congo‘s 3-1 win over Sierra Leone in the group’s other game wasn’t enough for them to qualify automatically.
DR Congo did advance as the top third-place team, but they first had to sweat out Egypt‘s later game at Tunisia. Had Egypt won by two goals, they would have gone through at DR Congo’s expense, and the Egyptians took the lead in the first half before losing 2-1.
Ghana made sure of their passage with goals by Majeed Warris, Wakaso Mubarak and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu against Togo in Tamale.
Guinea qualified second behind Ghana in Group E after a 2-0 win over Uganda at an empty stadium in Casablanca in neutral Morocco. Guinea have been banned from hosting qualifying games because of the Ebola virus outbreak back home.
Mali, a semifinalist at the last two tournaments, also avoided a surprise elimination in qualifying when they ended Algeria’sfive-game winning run in Group B with a 2-0 victory in Bamako. Mali joined the Algerians at the Nations Cup with the victory and ensured minnow Malawi missed out after a 0-0 draw in Ethiopia.
Replacement hosts Equatorial Guinea, top-ranked African team Algeria, Cape Verde, Tunisia, South Africa, Zambia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Gabon and Senegal had already qualified for the continental championship before Wednesday’s finale.
In other games on Wednesday, Zambiadefeated Group F winners Cape Verde 1-0, while Nigerheld Mozambiqueto a 1-1 draw.
In Group C, Gabondefeated Lesotho4-2, while Burkina Faso settled for a 1-1 draw with Angola.
Senegal defeated Botswana 3-0 in a game which West Ham striker Diafra Sakho missed after complaining of back pain.
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