Afghanistan and Hong Kong sealed promotion from the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division 4 after securing comprehensive victories in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania today.
Going into the final day of the group stage, three sides were in contention for promotion but Italy, knowing it needed victory over Afghanistan to finish in the top two of the table, was the team that had its dreams of playing in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 shattered when it lost by 93 runs.
Hong Kong defeated Jersey by 100 runs to seal second place in the group stages, while Fiji's dramatic two-run win over Tanzania means that Jersey and Fiji will be relegated to Division 5 on net run-rate, as all three teams were tied on two points.
Now, if Afghanistan and Hong Kong finish in the top two of the six-team Division 3 tournament in Argentina in January, they will join 10 other sides at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier, where four Associate or Affiliate Members will qualify for Asia in 2011.
Afghanistan's Rais Ahmadzai, who was named man of the match after an excellent 68, was delighted with his side's promotion to Division 3 and said he was determined to win the final against Hong Kong tomorrow.
We are very happy. It's true that there was a little bit of tension amongst the guys last night, but the coach said we should go and play positive cricket," said Ahmadzai.
"I was just concentrating on reading the wicket when I came into bat and then hitting the bad balls. The boys have done very well with the bowling, batting and fielding.
"We will try our best to win the final - we've already beaten Hong Kong in this tournament and we will try our best to do it again."
At Leaders Club, Afghanistan posted an imposing target of 235 for Italy to win after another solid, mature and at times flamboyant batting performance.
Ahmadzai led the way with an excellently paced innings, scored at more than a run a ball, and hit two of the seven sixes scored in the Afghan innings, while Ahmad Shah (52) also batted well.
In reply, Italy lost Thushara Kurukulasuriya to the first ball that he faced, before the Northcote brothers added 61 for the second wicket. But Italy's hopes suffered a blow when Andy Northcote (29) was run out by an excellent Rais Ahmadzai throw.
Then Hamid Hassan changed the game, first deceiving Nick Northcote with a cleverly disguised slower ball, and then earning the vital wicket of Joe Scuderi with a superb throw to run out the Italian captain.
Worse was to follow when Hemantha Jayasena was run out in the very next over without even facing a ball as panic spread through the Italian batting line-up. In the end Afghanistan was able to enjoy a comfortable victory.
Immediately after the game Joe Scuderi announced his retirement as a player, although he said he would continue as a coach.
"You can't keep playing for ever - I'm 40 in December and my time has come now. Perhaps it is time for Italian cricket not to rely on me as much as it has done for the past 10 years," he said.
In the other key promotion game, Butt Hussain missed out on his century in agonizing circumstances, run out backing up on 99, but his innings was instrumental in securing Hong Kong's passage to Division 3 in this competition.
"It was a pleasure to play such an important innings at a crucial stage for our team. It was due as I was only scoring 30 or 40 runs in my innings - I wasn't scoring big scores," said Butt Hussain.
After some excellent opening bowling from Ryan Driver and Anthony Kay, Hong Kong stuttered its way through the early overs under some excellent Jersey pressure.
But a 119-run partnership between Hussain and Skhawat (47) transformed the game as Hong Kong's experience and class began to show as it made a challenging 234 all out off 49.5 overs.
If Jersey was going to have any chance of challenging Hong Kong it needed a good start, but a fine bowling display, particularly from Irfan Ahmed (3-10), ended any hopes as it was reduced to 134 all out.
Butt Hussain admitted that he was looking forward to tomorrow's final against Afghanistan.
"We are quite even sides. Whoever plays well on the day will win the game. I cannot say who is favourite," he said. "Whoever plays smart cricket on the day will win the match."
In the other match of the day, Fiji finally registered its first win with a dramatic four-run defeat of Tanzania, with Simon Jepson's five wickets helping him win the man of the match.
The results from today's matches mean that while Hong Kong and Afghanistan are promoted to the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division 3, Italy and Tanzania will remain in Division 4 for 2010 while Jersey and Fiji are relegated to Division 5.
In a change of venues for tomorrow's finals, which are used for rankings play-off purposes, Afghanistan will play Hong Kong at Anadil Burhani, Italy will play Tanzania at University and Jersey will play Fiji at Leaders Club.
Hong Kong beat Jersey by 100 runs at Anadil Burhani
Hong Kong 234 all out, 49.5 overs (Butt Hussain 99, Skhawat Ali 47)
Jersey 134 all out, 50 overs (Andy Dewhurst 33 not out, Irfan Ahmed 3-10)
Afghanistan beat Italy by 97 runs at Leaders Club
Afghanistan 234 all out, 50 overs (Rais Ahmadzai 68, Ahmad Shah 54, Asghar Stanikzai 33, Mohammad Nabi 32)
Italy 141 all out, 44.4 overs (Nick Northcote 35, Hamid Hassan 3-19)
Fiji beat Tanzania by four runs at University
Fiji 182 all out, 50 overs
Tanzania 178 all out, 49.3 overs