A cloud of uncertainty continued to hang over the bulk of the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) teams after only one side from Southern Africa—surprise packages Madagascar—managed to secure their 2019 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) berth by the end of the penultimate round of qualifiers on Sunday night.
Thirteen countries have so far booked their places at the jamboree scheduled for Cameroon next June.
With just over half the available slots gone after the organisers expanded the participants to 24 nations starting next year, North and West African nations have dominated the qualifiers.
And from the Cosafa region, debutants Madagascar, who booked their place with two games remaining last month, have been the torch bearers ahead of regional heavyweights such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia and Namibia.
Mozambique, Lesotho and Comoros still have mathematical chances. But former champions Zambia have been the biggest casualties in these qualifiers as they have been eliminated together with Malawi, Swaziland, Botswana and Seychelles going into the final round matches.
The Flames were shown the exit door following a 2-1 loss to Comoros and Football Association of Malawi (FAM) president Walter Nyamilandu blamed it the rebuilding exercise did not yield the desired results.
“But I am sure this will put us in a good stead for the future. It was a necessary investment that has seen a lot of talented players coming into the team, but unfortunately it has come at a cost,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s Warriors, who were the sole regional representatives from the region at the 2017 finals in Gabon, missed on a realistic opportunity to wrap up the campaign when they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat in Liberia.
While the Warriors will now have to wait for the last game of the campaign against Congo-Brazzaville at home in March next year to seal their fate, first timers Madagascar are already warming up in the company of some of the continental bigwigs like hosts Cameroon, Egypt, Tunisia, Senegal, Nigeria, Algeria, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Mali.
East Africans Uganda have also had an unblemished campaign along with Mauritania, who are going to the Afcon finals for the first time.
But Southern Africa are still hoping for more representatives after the organisers CAF announced they were increasing the teams from 16 to 24 starting next year, opening the doors for many teams and increasing the chances for everyone.
Madagascar could afford to lose at home at the weekend when they went 3-1 down to fellow minnows South Sudan. South Africa still amplified their chances with a 1-1 home draw with Nigeria, which took them to nine points, two better than Libya whom they face in the decisive game.
Angola also did themselves a big favour with a 2-1 home win over Burkina Faso to take second place in Group I behind surprise packages Mauritania.
They travel to Botswana, who are already eliminated, for their final match from which they also need an outright victory to be secure.
Namibia, tied on eight points with leaders Guinea Bissau, and Mozambique who have seven points also have great chances ahead of the decisive round. Despite encountering a setback in Monrovia, their penultimate assignment, the Warriors still lead Group G as they did from the start and they could have sealed their qualification with a home win over DRC last month, but they could only manage a draw.
And on Sunday, they needed only a draw and they suffered their first defeat in the campaign after falling to Liberian skipper William Jebor’s 72nd minute strike.
However, Cosafa deputy chief executive officer Suzgo Nyirenda is confident that more teams will qualify on the last day.
“It is not all doom and gloom, we are confident that teams like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola and either Namibia or Mozambique will make it. The race is still on,” he said.—The Herald/nation