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Defending champion Nigeria fails to qualify for African Cup, Ivory Coast & Ghana leave it late

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Nigeria won't get the chance to defend its title at the African Cup of Nations next year after drawing 2-2 at home to South Africa on Wednesday to miss out on the finals on the last day of qualifying.

Ivory Coast, Ghana and Mali left it late, but managed to qualify for the tournament in Equatorial Guinea in January and February. Ebola-hit Guinea's national team will also make the trip.

Record seven-time winner Egypt's recent misery continued as it let slip a 1-0 lead in Tunisia to lose 2-1 and fail to make a third straight African Cup.

Egypt needed to win by two goals to progress to its first since winning the Cup of Nations in 2010. The loss in the North African derby against Tunisia, which had already qualified, meant Congo took the last place as the best third-place team across the seven groups.

The full 16-team lineup for the 2015 African Cup is now decided ahead of a re-scheduled final draw on Dec. 3, and after Equatorial Guinea was chosen as the replacement host for Morocco.

Needing a win to get the chance to defend a title it won last year in South Africa, Nigeria fell 2-0 behind to the South Africans in Uyo after a brace from Tokelo Rantie in six minutes either side of halftime. Nigeria scored two late goals to claim a frantic draw in front of a desperate home crowd, but Republic of Congo's 1-0 win in Sudan in Group A's other game saw it spring the big surprise in qualifying and take the second automatic place behind the South Africans.

The African champions had a glimmer of hope when Sone Aluko side-footed home in the 69th minute after a shot rebounded off the South African post. Aluko made it 2-2 deep into injury time with his second, but Nigeria couldn't find a winner.

Nigeria also missed progressing as the top third-place team by a point, and is sure to face a barrage of criticism from fans back home in Africa's most populous country. New Nigeria Football Federation President Amaju Pinnick said his federation "takes full responsibility for what has happened."

The Ivorians secured the point they needed with a 0-0 draw at home to 10-man Cameroon to finish second to the Cameroonians in Group D, sparking wild celebrations in Abidjan that boiled over. At fulltime, fans jumped fences, invaded the field and were involved in scuffles with police waving batons as they tried to hug the Ivory Coast players. Some supporters hung on and damaged the crossbar at one end.

Ghana won 3-1 win at home against Togo to ensure they will be at the finals, with goals by Majeed Warris, Wakaso Mubarak and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu.

Guinea qualified second behind Ghana in Group E after a 2-0 win over Uganda at an empty stadium in Casablanca in neutral Morocco. Guinea was banned from hosting qualifying games because of the Ebola virus outbreak back home which has killed over 1,000 people, and the team had no supporters to celebrate the crucial goals by Ibrahima Traore and Seydouba Soumah. Uganda had Andy Mwesigwa sent off.

Mali, a semifinalist at the last two Cup of Nations tournaments, avoided a surprise elimination in qualifying when it ended Algeria's five-game winning run in Group B with a 2-0 victory in Bamako. Veteran captain Seydou Keita sent the Malians on their way with a 29th-minute penalty. Mali joined the Algerians at the Cup of Nations with the victory and ensured minnow Malawi missed out after its 0-0 draw in Ethiopia.

Host Equatorial Guinea, top-ranked African team Algeria, Cape Verde, Tunisia, South Africa, Zambia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Gabon and Senegal had already qualified for the continental championship before Wednesday's finale.


Gerald Imray is on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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