Mohamed Salah scored in the last minute to give Egypt a 3-2 win over Tunisia in African Cup of Nations qualifying on Friday, taking the forward’s tally to 10 goals in his last eight games for his country.
Salah slipped through the Tunisian defense right at the end after a one-two with Salah Mohsen and finished neatly with his left foot to settle a North African derby where the teams were playing for pride more than anything else — both have already qualified for next year’s Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
In the other two games on Friday to start the penultimate round of qualifying, Morocco and Burundi took big steps toward booking their places at the continental championship, with Burundi on course for its first appearance.
Burundi would join debutant Madagascar, which qualified last month for its first African Cup. Mauritania is another team closing in on a maiden appearance at a tournament expanded from 16 to 24 teams for the first time next year. Mauritania could make sure with a win over Botswana on Saturday.
Salah has been Egypt’s superman recently, scoring the goal that took the Pharaohs to the World Cup in Russia, and now collecting four goals in the four games he’s played in Egypt’s successful African Cup qualifying campaign.
His winner against Tunisia at home in Alexandria prompted the Arabic television commentator, breaking momentarily into English, to declare: “Yes you can, yes you can, Salah superman!” Salah celebrated by removing his shirt and whirling it around with his left hand before being mobbed by teammates behind Tunisia’s goal.
His latest strike gave Egypt victory at the end of a seesaw game, where Egypt trailed to an early Naim Sliti goal, led 2-1, and then was pegged back by a second from Sliti for 2-2.
It also ended Tunisia’s winning run in qualifying and put Egypt level with the Tunisians at the top of the group with one game to play.
Morocco is more or less there after a 2-0 win over Cameroon, the reigning African champion which is guaranteed a place at the African Cup as the host. Cameroon is playing in the qualifiers for match practice and may need it after struggling this year under new coach Clarence Seedorf. Hakim Ziyech scored both goals for Morocco, which will qualify if Malawi doesn’t beat Comoros on Saturday. Even if Malawi does win that game, Morocco needs just a draw in its last game in Malawi to qualify. Even a narrow loss would be good enough.
BURUNDI ONE OF THE BIG SURPRISES
Burundi surprisingly leads its group after a hat trick by striker Abdul Razak helped it beat struggling South Sudan 5-2. That could change when Gabon hosts Mali on Saturday but Burundi still has an excellent chance to make the continental championship for the first time with a home game against Gabon in the decisive final round in March.
That would be the next big surprise after Madagascar, home to the president of the African soccer confederation, has had little recent success.
Mauritania may be the biggest surprise, a country in northwest Africa which is almost completely covered by the Sahara desert and which secured its first international win 17 years after its first game. But Mauritania has won three out of four games in this qualifying campaign to leave it needing one more victory at home to Botswana on Saturday to make sure of one of the two qualification places from the group.
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