Egypt came from behind to beat Guinea 2-1 on Wednesday and secure a record-extending 26th appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations finals as they made sure of top spot in their qualifying group with one match to play in the preliminary competition.
Egypt is the eighth country to qualify for the 24-team finals, to be hosted in the Ivory Coast next year.
Captain Mohamed Salah missed two gilt-edged chances, but Mahmoud Trezeguet and Mostafa Mohamed scored to ensure Egypt would finish top of Group D and return for another tilt at the African crown, which they have won a record seven times.
Guinea, who needed only one point to qualify, took the lead through Serhou Guirassy after 27 minutes but saw Salah then miss twice from close range before Trezeguet equalised.
Mohamed fired home the winner 11 minutes from the end in Marrakech, Morocco, where Guinea was forced to move from its home stadium, which was ruled unfit for the competition by Confederation of African Football inspectors.
Defeat for Guinea, on nine points, opens the door for one of the other two teams in the group – Ethiopia and Malawi – who each have three and play on Tuesday. The winner of that match then has chance to catch up but a draw would see Guinea qualify.
Gambia, who were the surprise package of the last Cup of Nations finals as they reached the quarter-finals in their debut appearance, strengthened their chances of returning after a dramatic last-gasp goal earned them a 3-2 win over South Sudan.
Substitute Hamza Barry netted the winner seven minutes into stoppage time as Gambia moved to nine points in Group G. They share top spot with Mali, who are away against Congo in Brazzaville on Sunday.
The match was played in Ismailia, Egypt because South Sudan do not have an adequate stadium and Gambia went ahead after four minutes through an own goal.
South Sudan twice came back after that only to see the points slip away and defeat ended its hopes of reaching the finals.
Guinea Bissau’s 1-0 win over Sao Tome e Principe earlier on Wednesday in the Lusophone derby strengthened its chances of qualifying from Group A, where it has advanced to 10 points after five games with a one-point lead over Nigeria.
The 55th-minute winner from former Belgium youth international Zinho Gano will qualify Guinea Bissau for a fourth successive finals appearance if Sierra Leone fail to beat Nigeria in the other group game on Sunday.
Sao Tome ceded home advantage to Guinea Bissau because their own stadium has been deemed unfit for use in international competition. The tiny island nation have now conceded 20 goals in the group from their five matches.
Saturday will see a further seven qualifiers played in the penultimate round of matches.
The top two teams in each group will play at the finals in January.
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