JOHANNESBURG, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - Little Botswana reached the Africa Cup of Nations finals for the first time Saturday and former giants South Africa and Senegal took huge steps toward joining them.
Jerome Ramatlhakwane, who cannot command a starting place with South African Premiership club Vasco da Gama, scored the early second half goal that brought Botswana a 1-0 triumph in Chad.
Although the 'Zebras' from the diamond-rich country of just two million people could be overtaken in Group K, they are guaranteed to finish among the top two and secure an invite to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
It was fitting that Ramatlhakwane should score the 50th-minute winner as he has contributed five of the seven goals that reaped 16 points from six matches, including home and away wins over over 2004 African champions Tunisia.
All of his goals have been match-deciders and another hero is coach Stanley Tshosane, who shunned the limelight as Botswana pulled off victory after victory in the only mini-league that offers two automatic finals places.
Moses Chavula slammed a free kick into the net after 18 minutes to secure Malawi a 1-0 home win over Togo and their clash with Tunisia in Blantyre will probably decide who accompanies Botswana to the biennial African showpiece.
Frustration turned to jubilation in stoppage time as Katlego Mphela and Demba Ba snatched the goals that brought maximum points to South Africa and Senegal and left title holders Egypt and Cameroon on the brink of elimination.
The 'Pharaohs' have won the last three Cup of Nations finals and a record seven overall and created the best scoring chances before Mphela stunned them three minutes into stoppage time in Johannesburg.
He latched on to a through ball, bore down on goal and as the goalkeeping great Essam al-Hadary came into view, Mphela unleashed a right-foot shot that flew to the far corner of the net.
Senegal had struck 11 goals in two previous qualifiers, but troubled Cameroon survived 92 torrid minutes in Dakar until West Ham striker Ba grabbed the crucial goal.
The results left Egypt six points adrift of South Africa in Group G and four-time champions Cameroon five points behind Senegal in Group E with three rounds of qualifiers left.
Uganda, who have not reached the Cup of Nations since finishing runners-up to Ghana 33 years ago, are looking good under Scottish coach Bobby Williamson and the hero was David Obua from Edinburgh club Hearts.
The tall striker scored midway through the first half in Guinea Bissau to give Uganda a 1-0 victory that lifted them to seven points, three more than Kenya, and two of their remaining three fixtures are in Kampala.
Kenya came from behind to edge Angola 2-1 in Nairobi although match-winner and Inter Milan midfielder Macdonald Mariga spoilt his achievement by getting a second caution and the red card means he misses the next round during June.
Tanzania were another East African country to triumph with Mbwana Samata heading home a corner three minutes into stoppage time for a 2-1 win in Dar es Salaam over shock Group D pacesetters Central African Republic.