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Premier League pair help Ghana book Cup of Nations place

Premier League duo Mohammed Kudus and Antoine Semenyo played key roles for Ghana in a 2-1 win over the Central African Republic on Thursday that sealed Africa Cup of Nations qualification.

New West Ham midfielder Kudus equalised just before half-time in Kumasi and Bournemouth forward Semenyo set up the winner for Ernest Nuamah in a tense final-round Group J clash.

Central African Republic needed maximum points to reach the finals for the first time and went ahead through Louis Mafouta in the first half.

But there was no fairytale ending for the Wild Beasts, who finished third, with table-toppers Ghana and second-placed Angola securing places at the January 13-February 11 finals in the Ivory Coast.

Angola were surprisingly held 0-0 at home in Lubango by resurgent Madagascar, who drew with Ghana in the previous round after losing three of their other four matches.

The qualifications of four-time champions Ghana and Angola, and Tanzania later, raised to 18 the number of countries who have secured places at the biennial 24-team African showpiece.

Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia qualified before the last round.

Mafouta scored his fifth goal of the qualifying campaign,  racing on to a pass, rounding goalkeeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi and pushing the ball into an unguarded net on 25 minutes.

Kudas, a 43.8 million euro ($47m) signing from Ajax Amsterdam last month, levelled  from a 43rd-minute free-kick, which went in off the hands of recalled goalkeeper Geoffrey Lembet.

Central African Republic tired in the second half and Ghana took the lead on 88 minutes when Semenyo raced into the area and his square pass was pushed in by Nuamah.

Ghana, whose last Cup of Nations triumph came 41 years ago, are guided by former Premier League manager Chris Hughton and will be competing at the finals for the 10th consecutive time.

Meanwhile, Tanzania needed a point away to two-time champions Algeria in Annaba and forced a 0-0 draw despite having only 20 percent possession.

The Group F result meant Algeria surrendered the only 100 percent record in qualifying having won their previous five matches.

Tanzania finished second, one point above Uganda, who bowed out with a 2-0 victory over Niger in the Moroccan city of Marrakech through first-half goals from Aziz Kayondo and Joseph Ochaya.

Niger were forced to stage the home fixture at a neutral venue because they do not have an international-standard stadium.

Tunisia pipped Equatorial Guinea for first place in Group J thanks to a 3-0 win over Botswana in Rades near Tunis with two of the goals coming from veteran Youssef Msakni.

Both the Tunisians and Equatoguineans finished with 13 points, but the north African had a superior head-to-head record.

Mohammed Kudus of Ghana challenged by Goduine Koyalipou of Central African Republic during the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier between Ghana and Central African Republic (CAR) at Baba Yara Stadium, Kumasi, Ghana on 07 September 2023 ©BackpagePix