By RON FANFAIR
Botswana has qualified for the African Cup of Nations soccer finals for the first time after shutting out Chad 1-0 to become the first African side to book its place in the 2012 competition.
The South African country, which failed in eight previous attempts to make it to the finals, is unbeaten in this year’s qualifying tournament that includes home and away wins against Tunisia.
Botswana has also beaten Chad (twice) and Togo and drew 1-1 with Malawi.
Ikechukwu Uche made a successful return to the Nigerian senior soccer team last Sunday, scoring twice in a 4-0 victory over Ethiopia in Abuja.
He suffered a severe knee injury two years ago and the problem resurfaced just as he was about to return to action last July.
“I am very happy that after a long time, I could come back and offer something to the team,” he said. “It’s been a very long time since Nigeria scored four goals in a game and I must congratulate the team which was working for each other and we got the three points.”
Uche’s brother, Kalu, who also plays for Nigeria, was delighted to be back on the field with his sibling.
“It’s not easy to come back after a long time and score two goals,” he said. “He made me really proud. When he scored the second goal, I thought what a great goal.”
Nigeria remains in second place in its group behind Guinea which drew 1-1 with Madagascar.
Cameroon trails group leaders Senegal by five points with three games to go after losing 1-0 to the Senegalese while seven-time winners and defending champions Egypt conceded an injury time goal to South Africa, leaving the North African country winless in three games and rooted at the bottom of its group.
Egypt must beat group leaders South Africa in their return meeting in Cairo in early June to avoid missing the continental championship for the fist time in three decades.
Uganda remains unbeaten in its group following a 1-0 victory over Guinea-Bissau; Ghana shut out Congo 3-0 to join Sudan – which beat Swaziland also by a 3-0 margin – at the top of their group; Burkina Faso bounced Namibia 4-0 to stay in control in its group and Kenya defeated Angola 2-1 at home to keep its slim hopes of qualifying alive.
The top team in 10 of the 11 groups advance to the finals while two teams from Group “K” that includes Botswana qualify.
Gabon and Equatorial Guinea will co-host the 28th African Cup of Nations tournament from January 21 to February 12, 2012.