Wilson Eduardo’s decision to switch allegiance from Portugal to Angola paid off instantly when he scored a debut winner to take his adopted country to the African Cup of Nations.
Eduardo scrambled home the only goal as Angola beat Botswana 1-0 on Friday to become the 15th of 24 teams through to the finals in Egypt in June.
The 28-year-old forward played for Portugal’s youth teams but accepted an Angola call-up this year.
His strike in the 21st minute sent Angola back to the finals after missing the last two editions. It clinched the first of 10 remaining spots to be decided on the final three days of qualifying and denied Burkina Faso a place.
Burkina Faso won 1-0 against Mauritania in the other Group I game but it wasn’t enough for the Burkinabes, who made the final in 2013 and finished third at the last Cup of Nations. They will miss the competition proper for the first time since 2008 and will be extra aggrieved as it is the first tournament to be expanded from 16 to 24 teams.
Angola and Mauritania, which had already qualified and will make its finals debut, take the two places from the group.
There could be more newcomers to join first-time qualifiers Mauritania and Madagascar.
Comoros, with a population of less than a million, can make its first finals appearance if it upsets reigning champion Cameroon on Saturday. Burundi and Lesotho are also in position to qualify for the first time while Libya, unable to play at home because of years of civil war, could return for the first time since 2012.
The big teams in danger include Cameroon, which was stripped of this year’s hosting rights because of poor preparations and security issues. Having lost its automatic place as host, it must avoid losing to Comoros to qualify.
South Africa plays Libya on neutral ground in Tunisia on Sunday in a winner-take-all clash.
Nigeria, having already qualified, ended its campaign with a 3-1 win at home to Seychelles to clinch top spot in Group E on Friday.
Odion Ighalo, Henry Onyekuru and Moses Simon scored for Nigeria, which was briefly held 1-1 after a blunder by goalkeeper Francis Uzoho. He came charging off his line to punch away a free kick and missed the ball completely to allow Seychelles to equalize.
Tunisia, also already certain of a place at the finals, routed Eswatini —the southern African country formerly known as Swaziland — 4-0.
Already-qualified Morocco drew 0-0 in Malawi, which had been eliminated.
Gambia drew 1-1 in Algeria after an injury-time equalizer from defender Futty Danso but the result wasn’t good enough for Gambia, which needed to win to have a chance of advancing. It’ll be either Benin or Togo that joins Algeria from Group D.
Equatorial Guinea beat Sudan 4-1. Both were already out of contention.