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LAGOS - Nigeria could again miss out on the African Nations Championship after they lost 2-0 to hosts Niger in Niamey as champions Democratic Republic of Congo got off to a winning start in Gabon at the weekend.
Nigeria fell behind after 18 minutes through a goal by Abdoulaye Mohamed at the Seyni Kountche Stadium in Niamey, before the home team doubled their advantage five minutes from the break, courtesy of Modibo Sidi.
Nigeria's build-up to the match in Niamey suffered a major setback when top Nigeria Football Federation official Alili Galadima died in a car accident on his way to the game.
"That result is a disgrace," said keen Nigerian football follower Bertram Ekenwa.
"However, the writing was on the wall after the core of the team that has been in camp for a long time was dropped by a new set of coaches less than a week before the match in Niger."
Last year, Nigeria failed to qualify for the inaugural competition in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, exclusively reserved for players plying their trade in their respective local leagues, after they were eliminated by Ghana.
Defending champions DRC, who lost 5-2 to Nigeria in Abuja in a warm-up for the championship qualifiers earlier this month, won 2-1 away in Gabon with TP Mazembe midfielder Alain Kaluyituka Dioko grabbing a first-half brace.
The match-up between Ghana, beaten by DRC in last year's maiden tournament final, and neighbours Burkina Faso finished goalless in Ouagadougou, meaning qualification is very wide open.
The Flames of Malawi were the biggest winners at the weekend after they thumped Mozambique 3-0 in Blantyre.
In Kolea, northern Algeria, the home team scraped a 1-0 win over Libya with youngster Youssef Ghazali scoring the winner in the second half of the closely-contested tie in which Algeria's Hocine Metref saw red in the dying moments.
Libya, who were the only North African team at the inaugural tournament, will now have to overturn this result in the reverse fixture in Tripoli to again feature in the tournament proper. - Sapa-AFP