- Associated Press - Thursday, November 14, 2019

Defending champion Algeria launched its qualifying campaign for the 2021 African Cup of Nations by routing Zambia 5-0 on Thursday.

Egypt missed Mohamed Salah when it was held 1-1 at home by Kenya. Ghana beat South Africa 2-0.

There was a big upset in Togo when Comoros, the Indian Ocean island country of less than a million people, won 1-0 to be the surprise early leader in Egypt’s group.

The decisive final group stage of qualifying, which began Wednesday, will see 23 teams join host Cameroon at the African Cup finals in two years.

Four months after winning the 2019 title in Egypt, Algeria underlined its status as continental champion by overpowering another former Cup of Nations winner.

It took Algeria until a minute before halftime to lead Zambia when defender Ramy Bensebaini forced the ball in with his shoulder. But the North Africans added four more goals in the second half. Baghdad Bounedjah, whose goal won Algeria the African Cup in Cairo, scored twice in Blida against the Zambians and rounded off the dominant victory with a penalty in the final minute.

Without injured star forward Salah, Egypt led Kenya in Alexandria when Mahmoud Kahraba pounced on a poor back pass from Erick Ouma just before halftime. But Michael Olunga intercepted Mohamed Elneny’s pass and drove a shot past Egypt goalkeeper Ahmed el-Shenawy to equalize in the 67th minute.

Egypt pressed hard in the final 20 minutes but couldn’t find another goal.

Salah is also expected to be sidelined for Egypt’s second qualifier, in Comoros on Monday, because of a left ankle injury.

His absence makes new coach Hossam el-Badry’s job that much harder. The 1-1 draw with Kenya was el-Badry’s first competitive game in charge after Egypt crashed out of its home African Cup in the round of 16.

That failure unleashed anger among Egyptian fans, led to the firing of coach Javier Aguirre, and caused the Egyptian Football Association president and its entire board to resign.

Comoros’ memorable victory in Lome came thanks to Faiz Selemani’s goal early in the second half. Comoros hung on under pressure as goalkeeper Ali Ahamada made a series of saves, some of them good enough to be applauded by the Togolese supporters. Togo striker Fo-Doh Laba hit the crossbar with a header in injury time.

Comoros survived to gain revenge for losing to Togo in World Cup qualifying two months ago. It’s Egypt, the seven-time African champion, next for Comoros.

“We are the small team in this group and we have respect for the Egyptian side, but we are all hungry for victories,” Comoros captain Nadjim Abdou said.

Ghana prevailed in a meeting of the two teams favored to qualify from Group C. Thomas Partey gave the Black Stars the lead over South Africa in the 36th with a deflected shot. Mohammed Kudus sealed it 10 minutes from the end. Ghana and Sudan - which beat Sao Tome and Principe 4-0 on Wednesday - lead the group.

Also on Thursday, Mozambique beat Rwanda 2-0 in a game interrupted late on by a floodlight failure, Congo and Gabon drew 0-0, and Naby Keita was among the goal-scorers to help Guinea to a 2-2 draw in Mali. Guinea twice rallied in Bamako for an important away point.


More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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