New African champion Nigeria salvaged a home draw against Kenya with an injury-time equalizer in World Cup qualifying on Saturday. Ivory Coast didn’t miss the dropped Didier Drogba in its 3-0 win over Gambia.
Samuel Eto’o scored twice as Cameroon edged Togo 2-1 to improve the inconsistent Cameroonians’ chances of qualifying for a first major tournament since 2010.
The last World Cup host, South Africa, still has a chance of making Brazil 2014 after a much-needed victory.
Tunisia strengthened its World Cup case with a 2-1 win at home to Sierra Leone to continue its perfect record, and Senegal is also top of its group despite a home draw with Angola in neutral Guinea.
The return of the continent’s World Cup qualifying competition mainly revolved around some of its most famous strikers with Drogba left out, Eto’o a hero again and Emmanuel Adebayor a villain after apparently leading a Togo player revolt.
Burkina Faso made last month’s African Cup of Nations final against Nigeria and continued that rich form with a 4-0 hammering of Niger at home in Ouagadougou, but still lies off the pace set by group leader Republic of Congo.
In Nigeria’s first game since beating Burkina Faso in that final last month, Nnamdi Oduamadi came off the bench to score in the 93rd and prevent a surprise win for the Kenyans, who led before halftime through Francis Kahata.
Nigeria’s slip allowed Malawi to join it at the top of Group F after its victory in Namibia.
African Cup final goalscorer Sunday Mba and strikers Obafemi Martins and Victor Moses of Chelsea all played for Nigeria against the Kenyans in Calabar.
Without veteran Drogba, who was left out by coach Sabri Lamouchi, Ivory Coast still won comfortably over the Gambians with second-half goals by Wilfried Bony, Yaya Toure and Salomon Kalou.
The Ivorians lead Group C by four points and are closer to one of the five African places at the World Cup. The 10 group winners from this stage will play a final round of two-legged ties to decide who leaves Africa for Brazil next year.
Also topping their groups ahead of more teams playing on Sunday and next week are Cameroon, Senegal, Tunisia and now South Africa.
Eto’o returned to international action to score the opener in the 42nd and the winner from the penalty spot in the 82nd in Yaounde. Dove Wome equalized for Togo, which was missing Adebayor, goalkeeper Kossi Agassa and other regulars as they continue to battle with coach Didier Six.
Senegal’s draw with Angola keeps it two points ahead of the Angolans in Group J.
Tunisia kept its complete dominance of Group B intact, with Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and African Cup revelation Cape Verde trailing far behind.
South Africa gave its fans a small but significant boost with a long-range goal from Thabo Matlaba and a second-half strike from Bernard Parker in a 2-0 win over Central African Republic. Bafana Bafana have gone from third to the top of Group A ahead of Ethiopia’s hosting of Botswana on Sunday.
Republic of Congo’s 1-0 win over Gabon was enough to keep it well clear of Burkina Faso in Group E and ensure that while powerhouses Nigeria and Ivory Coast are on course for a place in Brazil, minnows like the Congolese and Group H leader Benin also still have a chance of qualifying.