Nigeria struggling in African Cup qualifying
JOHANNESBURG (AP): Defending champions Nigeria slipped deep into trouble in qualifying for the African Cup of Nations with a 1-0 loss in Sudan to stay winless halfway through the competition.
Bakri Almadina's goal just before half-time in Khartoum left Nigeria bottom of Group A with a point from three games and out of the qualifying places for the continental championship early next year.
The 2015 African Cup has more problems to contend with than just the possible absence of its defending champion.
The dates for Africa's top tournament - which is scheduled to run January 17 to February 8 - are now in doubt after host nation Morocco asked for the cup to be postponed because of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Tournament organisers, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), will meet with Moroccan authorities next month over the request.
With Nigeria struggling, South Africa lead Group A after a 2-0 win in Republic of Congo. Cameroon and Ivory Coast are on course to qualify, Algeria have three wins from three and Ghana also lead their group. The top two teams from each of the seven groups of four qualify automatically for the Cup of Nations finals. The best third-place finisher will seize the last of the 16 places.
Morocco have already qualified as hosts, but announced through their ministry of sport that they want to delay the event over fears of the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. Four of the five West Africa nations affected by the disease could qualify for the tournament, raising the likelihood of supporters from Ebola areas travelling in numbers to Morocco.
CAF said its president, Issa Hayatou, would travel to Morocco for a meeting on November 3, but didn't say what new dates might be considered.
The schedule may be irrelevant to 2013 winner and title holders Nigeria, who are bottom of their group after a home loss to Republic of Congo, a draw in South Africa and another surprise defeat on Saturday in Sudan. South Africa went top of the group ahead of Republic of Congo after Bongani Ndulula and Tokelo Rantie scored in a two-minute spell early in the second half to keep Bafana Bafana unbeaten in qualifying.
Algeria won 2-0 in Malawi and Mali matched that result in Ethiopia to keep the Algerians and Malians in the qualifying places from Group B. In Group C, Gabon jumped above Burkina Faso, the losing finalist at the last Cup of Nations, after a double from Borussia Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang delivered a 2-0 home win over the Burkinabes.
Cameroon were held to a 0-0 draw by Sierra Leone, who are one of two countries along with Guinea not allowed to play at home in the qualifying competition because of the deaths of thousands of people from Ebola. The draw put Cameroon a point ahead of Ivory Coast in Group D despite the Ivorians' 2-1 win in Congo. Saint-Etienne forward Max Gradel kept Ivory Coast on track with an 83rd-minute winner in Kinshasa.
Ghana top Group E after Asamoah Gyan scored in a fighting 1-1 draw against Guinea in neutral Morocco and Cape Verde and surprise package Mozambique are on course to qualify from Group F ahead of 2012 African champion Zambia.