Egypt, Tunisia close in on World Cup qualification; Algeria out
Tunisia and Egypt were the big winners in Tuesday's World Cup qualifiers, as the North African duo secured big results to take significant steps towards Russia.
Elsewhere, South Africa and Senegal both missed the opportunity to take top spot in Group D, while Algeria and Cameroon's eliminations were confirmed following Zambia's 1-0 victory in Constantine.
In Group A, Tunisia have taken pole position in the pool after coming from behind to take a point from the Democratic Republic of Congo in a 2-2 draw in Kinshasa, with two goals in the space of two second-half minutes.
Chancel Mbemba and Paul-Jose M'Poku had given the Leopards a 2-0 lead -- and top spot in the group on goal difference -- heading into the final 10 minutes, but Wilfred Moke's own goal and Anice Badri's thunderous effort ensured the points were shared.
If Congo fail to beat Libya in "neutral" Tunisia in early October, an Eagles victory away in Guinea would be enough to confirm their place in Russia.
Another North African giant -- Egypt -- also moved closer to a first World Cup appearance since 1990 when they avenged last week's 1-0 defeat away in Uganda by beating the Cranes by the same scoreline in Alexandria.
Mohamed Salah scored the only goal of the game as the Pharaohs overtook their East African opponents into top spot in Group E, while Denis Onyango's heroics between the sticks for Uganda ensured the outclassed Cranes remained in contention until the death.
In the same group, Ghana boosted their faint hopes of a fourth consecutive World Cup appearance as Thomas Partey scored a hat trick in a 5-1 victory over Congo-Brazzaville, but they remain four points off the table toppers with four to play.
Morocco, a third North African heavyweight, also remain in the running for Russia, although they'll rue their failure to find the net against a Mali side that they demolished 6-0 at home on Friday, with Herve Renard's side having to settle for a 0-0 draw.
That result ensures that the Ivory Coast remain atop Group C -- with seven points to Morocco's six -- despite a shock 2-1 defeat at home against Gabon, much improved despite being on the end of a 3-0 defeat in the first fixture between the duo in Libreville at the weekend.
The Panthers, on five points, are not out of the running, and could even move into top spot if they repeat Tuesday's heroics in Morocco next month.
While Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco will all be harbouring hopes of representing the north on the grandest stage of all, Algeria's miserable qualifying campaign came to a premature end as they were defeated 1-0 at home by Zambia, with Patson Daka nabbing a second-half winner.
Expect a major inquisition in Algeria after their limp exit, while Zambia's victory takes them just three points behind group leaders Nigeria before their trip to Uyo in October. The Super Eagles would secure qualification if they avoid defeat, while Cameroon are already out of the running after their 1-1 draw against Gernot Rohr's side in Yaounde on Monday.
Finally, Group D remains the tightest of all five groups, where only two points separate all four teams.
South Africa missed the opportunity to take the initiative in the pool when they fell to a second consecutive defeat by Cape Verde, this time 2-1 with Garry Rodrigues scoring twice as the Sharks ensured Bafana Bafana lost two consecutive competitive A team matches for the first time since 2009.
Similarly, Senegal failed to capitalise on South Africa's sustained stuttering as they conceded in the 89th minute in Burkina Faso when Alain Traore's free kick bounced back off substitute goalkeeper Pape Ndiaye and over the line to secure a 2-2 draw.
The Stallions, perennially underestimated, remain in top spot with two games to play, and will fancy their chances of reaching their maiden World Cup.