- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Morocco became the first team to qualify for next year’s African Cup of Nations with a 2-0 win over Cape Verde on Tuesday as new coach Herve Renard delivered immediate success.

Egypt is on the brink of making it to Gabon and its first Cup of Nations since 2010 following a 1-0 home win over Nigeria in front of 40,000 people in Alexandria. That eliminated Nigeria, the 2013 African champion.

Current title holder Ivory Coast remains on course to defend its title at the 2017 finals despite being held 1-1 in Sudan.

Renard, who won African Cups as coach of Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast last year, took over Morocco last month. He oversaw away and home wins over Cape Verde in the last four days to ensure the North Africans won Group F with two rounds of games to spare.

Youssef El Arabi scored twice for Morocco on Tuesday to leave Cape Verde, Africa’s top-ranked team, seeking to qualify as one of the two best second-place teams from the 13 groups. The group winners qualify automatically.

Highly-rated teenage midfielder Ramadan Sobhi scored the crucial goal for the record seven-time champion Egypt against Nigeria in the 65th minute at Alexandria’s Borg El-Arab Stadium, where a longstanding ban on fans attending games in large numbers in Egypt was temporarily lifted.

Egypt, whose national soccer team’s fortunes have dipped dramatically with the onset of political turmoil in the country, needs just a draw with Tanzania in its final qualifier in June. Egypt can even qualify if it loses that game by two goals or less.

The 18-year-old Sobhi made another vital contribution with his winner from a low shot that was deflected home through a crowd of players. He set up the equalizer in Egypt’s 1-1 draw in Nigeria at the weekend.

Egypt’s national team won its record-extending seventh title in 2010 but the one-time dominant force in African soccer was absent for the last three continental championships while football at home was marred by violent clashes that reflected the political strife in Egypt.

Nigeria has now failed to make two straight African Cups. Nigeria’s fate wasn’t helped by the withdrawal of Chad from the qualifying competition on Sunday, reducing Group G to three teams and meaning there is no chance of a place for Nigeria as one of the two best second-place teams. They have to come from groups with four teams.

Also on Tuesday, Cameroon took a big step toward qualifying by drawing 0-0 in South Africa and, in another big matchup, Togo and Tunisia also drew 0-0 in a game that marked the return to internationals for Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor. Adebayor couldn’t convert an early chance and the Tunisians celebrated their away draw at the final whistle.

That Togo-Tunisia result left Liberia top of Group A in a major surprise and in line for its first appearance at the African Cup since 2002. Liberia beat Djibouti 5-0, with Spain-based striker William Jebor netting a hat trick. Djibouti, one of the world’s six lowest-ranked teams, was eliminated after conceding 15 goals in four games.

Sudan held current African champion Ivory Coast to a 1-1 draw with Max Gradel and Muhand El Tahir scoring. Ivory Coast is still top and in position for the automatic qualification place from their group with two rounds of games to go in June and September.

While the likes of Ivory Coast, Egypt, Ghana, Cameroon, Mali, Algeria and Senegal all lead their groups, minnows Liberia, Zimbabwe and Guinea Bissau have provided the surprise stories and are also on course to qualify.

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