Egypt claimed the last qualifying place for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2008 courtesy of a 1-0 victory over Botswana in Cairo on Saturday. Substitute Mohamed Fadl scored the winner 11 minutes after coming on in the second half.
The Pharaohs are the reigning champions after pipping Côte d'Ivoire on penalties in Cairo last year, and finished top of qualifying Group 2 with 12 points from three home games and three away draws. Mauritania, Burundi and Botswana collected seven points each in a pool that came to a predictable conclusion, with Egypt heavily favoured to finish first from the outset.
Egypt needed only a draw to clinch a place among the 16 finalists, but they wasted numerous chances to break the deadlock against Botswana. Hassan Shehata, an Africa Cup of Nations winner as a player in 1986 and as a coach 20 years later, finally lost patience midway through the second half and pulled off forwards Emad Moteab and Amr Zaki.
And amid all the stars like midfielder Mohamed Aboutraika from African club champions Al-Ahly, it was Fadl of less fashionable outfit Ismailia who showed how it should be done with a header past Modiri Marumo after 76 minutes. Egypt were content to protect their advantage as time ticked away, knowing Botswana had to score twice to deprive them of a 21st appearance at the biennial showcase of African football.
Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, Zambia and hosts Ghana have also qualified for a tournament to be staged from 20 January to 10 February.
Burundi had to win a match played in Mauritania at the same time to have any chance of snatching first place, but were lucky to lose only 2-1 with visiting goalkeeper Vladimir Niyonkuru repeatedly coming to the rescue in Nouakchott.
Pascal Corville gave the Mauritanians a first-half lead that was extended by Ahmed Teguedi just after half-time, and Abdallah Imantona grabbed a late goal for the central Africans.