Johannesburg (AFP) – Forwards based in Finland and Bolivia scored in Mauritius on Sunday to take minnows Sao Tome e Principe to the group stage of 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying.

Ricardo Cardoso from Helsinki outfit Klubi 04 netted twice and recent Guabira signing Luis Leal once in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Mauritius in Saint-Pierre which gave Sao Tome a 4-3 aggregate victory.

Lacking funds and an international-standard stadium, the Portuguese-speaking island nation were forced to play both legs of a preliminary round tie in Mauritius.

Leal, 34, the best known Sao Tomean footballer, scored the only goal of the first leg on Thursday, which counted as the ‘home’ fixture for a team popularly known as The Falcons and True Parrots.  

In a see-saw second leg Mauritius took the lead through a Kevin Bru penalty, but they trailed 2-1 at half-time after Cardoso and Leal struck.

Australia-born Dylan Collard equalised for Mauritius only for Cardoso to score again just two minutes later, leaving the home side needing at least two more goals in 30 minutes to survive.

However, Mauritius managed only one, from Ashley Nazira on 86 minutes, and the country that qualified once for the Cup of Nations — 48 years ago — were eliminated.

Sao Tome are ranked 189th in the world and 50th in Africa, and are among 10 countries who have never qualified for the biennial Cup of Nations, which the Ivory Coast will host in mid 2023.  

Elsewhere, Lesotho, Eswatini and South Sudan won to secure overall victories ahead of the group draw on a date to be announced that will split 48 nations into 12 groups, with the first two matchdays in June.

Katleho Makateng celebrated only his second appearance for Lesotho by opening and closing the scoring in a 3-1 win over the Seychelles in Soweto near Johannesburg. The first leg ended goalless.

In another return match staged in South Africa, Eswatini beat Somalia 2-1 in the northeastern city of Mbombela after establishing a 3-0 first-leg advantage four days ago. 

Sabelo Ndzinisa and Fanelo Mamba netted early in the second half for Eswatini and Somali Omar Jama halved the deficit in added time.

Like Eswatini, South Sudan found the going a little tougher second time round as they edged Djibouti 1-0 in Kampala having won the first leg 4-2. Peter Choi scored the lone goal on 55 minutes.

Lesotho, Eswatini and South Sudan had to stage their home matches in neutral countries as they lack international-standard stadiums.