LAGOS (AFP) - Nigeria were the biggest casualty as fellow favourites Cameroon and DR Congo qualified for the Championship of African Nations (CHAN) to be hosted by Sudan next year.
For the second time running in the competition designed by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to expose players from the local leagues of the continent, Nigeria failed to qualify for the tournament proper after they were upset 2-0 on aggregate by Niger.
Niger won the first leg 2-0 in Niamey before they held the Nigerian home-based Eagles to a goalless draw at a packed Sani Abacha Stadium in the northern city of Kano on Sunday to book their ticket to their first-ever full international competition finals.
Nigeria paraded a much-changed team from the first encounter in Niger in a bid to win by a convincing margin on Sunday, but Niger goalkeeper Lousseni Doumbia Issah pulled off several heroics including saving a 36th minute penalty taken by Chibuzor Okonkwo as the visitors defended till the last minute.
Nigeria failed to qualify for the inaugural tournament in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, last year when they were eliminated by perennial rivals Ghana.
However, Cameroon, DR Congo and Ghana lived up to their billing by booking their places in next year's tournament.
Cameroon, who failed to reach last year's competition, were the first team besides hosts Sudan to qualify for the 2011 edition after a comfortable 3-0 win over Congo in Yaounde.
The first leg ended 1-1 before Cameroon took command in the second half of the return fixture with goals from Eyenga Anicet, Julian and Edgar Momasso Saly to ensure qualification.
Congo will now play Gabon in May for a chance to qualify for the tournament proper after defending champions DR Congo defeated Gabon 3-2 on aggregate at the weekend.
Ghana, who reached last year's championship game against DR Congo, are also through to Sudan 2011 courtesy of a 1-0 win in Accra.
The teams played out a 0-0 draw in the first leg, before Bismark Idan netted the match winner for Ghana in the second leg match.
South Africa will now tackle Zambia in the next round of the qualifiers after they defeated Botswana 2-1 in Johannesburg with a brace from Bloemfontein Celtic striker Moses Spandeel.
Tony Odur grabbed a hat-trick as Uganda trounced Burundi 4-0 in Kampala for a 5-1 aggregate victory.
"It was a difficult game but I'm happy with the display. People shouldn't expect miracles but if we continue playing well, we have a chance," said Uganda coach, Bobby Williamson.
Tanzania recorded an even more convincing 6-0 victory over the Ocean Stars of Somalia in Dar-es-Salaam in a one-off tie after war-torn Somalia could not host a second leg fixture.
The Cranes will now battle Rwanda for a spot in Sudan.
The fairy tale run of Seychelles continued after they were held to a 1-1 draw in Windhoek by better fancied hosts Namibia.
The islanders won the first game by a lone strike before they took the lead in the return leg through Don Anacouza.
Namibia drew level a minute later and even though they had Rachim Padayachy sent off seven minutes from the end, Seychelles held on to advance to the next stage of the qualifying tournament, where they face Zimbabwe.
Malawi were punished for a defensive blunder by hosts Mozambique, who won 1-0 in front of a packed June 25 Stadium in Nampula, but they stay alive in the championship after they won the first leg 3-0 at home.
Togo fell 2-1 to last year's tournament hosts Ivory Coast in Lome. It was a first leg qualifier with the return leg slated for April 11 in Abidjan.
Angola, Mali, Senegal and Zimbabwe were the other teams who this past weekend progressed in the CHAN qualifying tournament, while matches involving Morocco and Tunisia as well as Libya and Algeria have been rescheduled till next month.
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