October 16, 2014

Algeria and Cape Verde became the first teams to qualify for next year's African Cup of Nations as they guaranteed top-two finishes in their groups with wins late Wednesday.

Struggling defending African champion Nigeria secured its first victory in final qualifying but still announced Thursday that coach Stephen Keshi had been fired. Keshi led Nigeria to the Cup of Nations title in 2013 and the last 16 of this year's World Cup.

However, he was fired along with assistant coaches Daniel Amokachi and Ike Shorounmu after a meeting of the Nigeria Football Federation's executive committee, the NFF said.

While Nigeria sits out of the qualification places, Algeria, which also made the last 16 at the World Cup, made it four wins from four games by beating Malawi 3-0 at home. Goals by Yacine Brahimi, Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani sent the Algerians to the 2015 finals in Morocco, scheduled for January and February.

Cape Verde made its debut at the Cup of Nations last year and will be going to a second straight tournament after a late goal by Heldon Ramos sealed a 1-0 win over Mozambique.

Cameroon moved to the brink of qualification after beating Sierra Leone 2-0, but star-studded Ivory Coast lost 4-3 at home to Congo to drop out of the qualifying places with two rounds of games to go. Manchester City's Yaya Toure scored one goal and Hertha Berlin's Salomon Kalou had two for the Ivorians, but Jeremy Bokila's winner two minutes from the end for Congo upset the standings in Group D. Cameroon and the Congolese are now in position to qualify.

The top two teams in each of the seven groups will play at the African Cup along with the best third-place team - currently Egypt - and host Morocco. Nigeria and Ivory Coast are the big teams in danger of missing out.

Nigeria has been wrangling over a new contract for Keshi since the end of the World Cup and the African champion's poor start in qualifying, when it went winless through its first three games, ultimately decided the coach's fate. Hours after a 3-1 win over Sudan the NFF said Keshi and his assistants were relieved of their duties.

Former Nigeria coach Shaibu Amodu will take charge for the remainder of the qualifiers before a foreign coach is appointed, the NFF said.

South Africa had to delay celebrations after being held to a 0-0 home draw by Republic of Congo when a win would have secured qualification.

Mali appears set to qualify along with Algeria from Group B despite a 3-2 loss at home to Ethiopia. Malian supporters threw plastic bottles onto the field after Abebaw Butako's last-minute winner for the visitors, and the Ethiopian team bus had a window broken by a stone and had to be escorted away from the stadium by riot police.

Gabon and Burkina Faso lead Group C, Ghana and Togo are top in Group E and Tunisia and Senegal are best-placed to qualify from Group G.

Egypt, however, is pushing hard in Group G and successive wins over Botswana have given the record seven-time African champions hope of making the Cup of Nations finals for the first time since 2010. Egypt won a third straight title then before severe political unrest at home caused its football team to slump and miss out completely on the 2012 and 2013 tournaments.


Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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