Mali progressed to the final round of African World Cup qualifying by beating 10-man Rwanda 3-0 on Thursday, while Ghana experienced a major setback in its quest to make it to Qatar next year.
Ghana was held to a 1-1 draw by Ethiopia, a result that opened the door for South Africa to take a three-point lead over Ghana in Group G with just one game to go.
That game will be a showdown between the two in Cape Coast, Ghana on Sunday, when a draw will take South Africa into the decisive 10-team playoffs and see Ghana miss a second straight World Cup. Only the group winners progress.
Captain Andre Ayew swung in a curling left-foot free kick in the 22nd minute in Johannesburg to put Ghana ahead against Ethiopia. The Ghanaians missed a series of good chances in the first half and paid when Ethiopia skipper Getaneh Kebede was unmarked in the center to fire home the equalizer in the 72nd minute.
South Africa capitalized to beat Zimbabwe 1-0 and put itself in pole position to go through. South Africa hasn’t been to the World Cup since hosting it in 2010.
Mali joined Senegal and Morocco to reach the playoffs that will take place in March. Thursday was the first of six days of qualifiers in Africa to bring the group phase to an end and decide the last 10.
Mali’s job was made much easier when Rwanda’s Djihad Bizimana lost control of the ball near his penalty area and then dragged down Mali forward Ibrahima Kone to earn a straight red card in the eighth minute.
Mali was dominant from then on and Moussa Djenepo hit a shot in off the post for the lead. Kone profited from a dreadful mistake from Rwanda goalkeeper Emery Mvuyekure, who gifted him the ball in front of goal, to make it 2-0 in the first half.
Kalifa Coulibaly thundered a powerful volley home from way out for 3-0 and the Mali players danced around the corner flag to celebrate their progression to the final playoffs.
Uganda earlier drew 1-1 with Kenya in the same group and the Mali victory ensured Uganda was eliminated.
Kenya was playing just hours after its government announced it was disbanding the national soccer federation and firing its leaders amid allegations of mismanagement of money. Federation president Nick Mwendwa refused to recognize the government’s order, setting the two parties on a collision course.
Senegal, which is already through to the final round, salvaged a 1-1 draw in Togo to maintain its unbeaten start to qualifying when Habib Diallo scored an equalizer deep in injury time.
A surprise is brewing in Group J where Benin, which has never been to the World Cup or even come close, is top of the standings by two points from Congo. Congo hosts Benin on Sunday, when that group will be decided.
Mohamed Salah’s Egypt plays on Friday and a win in Angola, which has been eliminated, would confirm its place in the playoffs.
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