September’s 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers have been postponed to allow the continent’s five World Cup-bound teams to prepare for the tournament in Qatar.
The postponement of the third and fourth round of fixtures had been mooted for weeks, especially after the dates for the finals in Ivory Coast were put back from June next year to January 2024.
Consequently, match days three and four qualifiers have been moved to 20-28 March 2023 by organisers the Confederation of African Football (Caf).
Match day five is now scheduled for 12-20 June 2023, with the final round of matches to be played between 4 and 12 September 2023.
Delaying the 2023 Nations Cup until early 2024, a decision taken to avoid playing the tournament during the rainy season in West Africa, has afforded Caf some leeway to re-arrange qualifiers during a packed calendar.
Back in April, two qualifying dates were changed shortly after Tunisia suggested they may skip the qualifiers to concentrate on World Cup preparations.
That allowed international friendlies to be arranged in June, when Senegal coach Aliou Cisse was among the more vocal critics of the fixtures scheduled in September.
The Teranga Lions were due to play home and away qualifiers against Mozambique rather than arrange matches against opposition from other continents before heading to Qatar.
The African champions are set to announce alternative fixtures soon, while Morocco are now expected to face South American opposition in the form of Chile and Paraguay in September friendlies.
Ghana – who have a friendly against Switzerland in the United Arab Emirates in November – and Cameroon are the other African teams who will be playing at the World Cup finals.
Ghana to face Nigeria in CHAN qualifying
Ghana set up a qualifying showdown against Nigeria to reach the 2022 African Nations Championship (CHAN) after seeing off Benin in the second leg of their first-round tie.
The Black Galaxies won the first leg 3-0 in Cape Coast and Daniel Afriyie’s goal was enough to beat the Squirrels 1-0 in the reverse fixture at the Stade de l’Amittie, Cotonou.
Ghana, whose last tournament appearance was in 2014 when they finished as runners-up, will face their West African arch rivals in the final two-legged Western Zone B play-off in August and September.
Elsewhere in qualifying, Mozambique upset Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) champions Zambia.
The second and final round of fixtures will determine the qualifiers from each regional zone for CHAN 2022. The first legs are scheduled for 26 to 28 August, while second legs take place from 2-4 September.
The expanded 18-team CHAN finals, a tournament for domestic-based players, are scheduled to be held from 8-31 January 2023 in Algeria, with holders Morocco and Libya already assured of a place.
Morocco are chasing a third straight title, having defended the trophy at the delayed 2020 finals which were held in Cameroon last year.
CHAN qualifying round-up
In the Southern Zone, Mozambique beat Zambia 1-0 in Lusaka to book a clash against Malawi, with Pachoio Lau Ha King’s second half goal at the National Heroes Stadium giving the visitors a 1-0 aggregate win on Saturday.
Madagascar beat Seychelles 3-0 in Antananarivo on Sunday to win the tie 4-0 overall, and they will face Botswana, who held Eswatini to a 2-2 draw in Soweto to go through on the away goals rule.
Regional giants South Africa progressed after a 0-0 draw at home to Comoros, with Khulekani Shezi’s lone goal for Bafana Bafana in the first leg securing a slim 1-0 aggregate win and a date with Angola.
Sierra Leone suffered a 2-1 defeat by Cape Verde in Marrakech, but the Leone Stars edged past the Blue Sharks 3-2 on aggregate in Western Zone A.
In the Moroccan city of Marrakech, a cagey affair between Gambia and Guinea-Bissau ended in a penalty shoot-out win for the latter after a 1-1 aggregate result.
Meanwhile, the local Teranga Lions of Senegal suffered a 2-1 home defeat by Liberia in Dakar but won the tie 4-2 overall and will face Guinea for a CHAN finals ticket.
In the Central Eastern Zone, goals from Abdul Suleiman and Dickson Job helped Tanzania beat Somalia 2-1 on Saturday to complete a 3-1 win. The Taifa Stars will now face Uganda for a place in Algeria.
Djibouti reached the final qualifying round after beating Burundi 4-2 in a penalty shootout on Friday after strikes from Akbar Muderi and Cedric Urasenga gave Djibouti a 2-1 win in Dar-es-Salaam and meant the tie ended 3-3 draw on aggregate.
Also in Tanzania, Ethiopia thrashed South Sudan 5-0 six days after the first leg had ended goalless and Walias will face Rwanda in August.
CHAN 2022 qualifying – second round fixtures
Western Zone A:
Senegal v Guinea
Sierra Leone v Mali
Guinea-Bissau v Mauritania
Western Zone B
Ivory Coast v Burkina Faso
Togo v Niger
Ghana v Nigeria
Central African Republic v Congo
Equatorial Guinea v Cameroon
Chad v DR Congo
Central Eastern zone
Ethiopia v Rwanda
Tanzania v Uganda
Djibouti v Sudan
Angola v South Africa
Botswana v Madagascar
Malawi v Mozambique
(First legs 26-28 August, second legs 2-4 September)