Nigeria scored late to beat Namibia 1-0 while South Africa escaped with a home draw against Ethiopia in World Cup qualifying on Sunday.
Libya claimed a 1-1 draw in Togo in the first round of group games, while Mali lost away to Benin in one of the surprises of the weekend.
Spain-based striker Ikechukwu Uche found the net in the 80th minute to give Nigeria a Group F victory over a resilient Namibia in a game relocated to Calabar because of recent bomb blasts in the Nigerian central city of Kaduna.
Uche’s winner took Nigeria, under new coach and former captain Stephen Keshi, top of Group F even though it began qualifying without the English Premier League trio of Jon Obi Mikel, Peter Odemwingie and Taye Taiwo. Skipper Joseph Yobo was also unavailable with injury.
South Africa, the last World Cup host, needed a 77th-minute equalizer in a Group A game to earn a point after Salahdin Said’s powerful shot had put the Ethiopians ahead in the 30th in Rustenburg.
Said hammered his shot into the roof of the net at Royal Bafokeng 2010 World Cup stadium. Striker Katlego Mphela saved a point for Bafana Bafana 13 minutes before time, but coach Pitso Mosimane’s South Africa has still not won in nine games.
”It was not a good performance from us,” Mosimane said. ”Credit to them, they played well. We still have 15 points in the campaign to play for.”
Kalen Damessi put Togo ahead in the eighth minute at Stade de Kegue in Lome. Ahmed Zouay leveled seven minutes later for a morale-boosting start to Libya’s quest to follow up its recent surprise African Cup appearance with a place at the World Cup.
Mali couldn’t recover after Razak Omotoyossi scored in Cotonou for a 1-0 win, taking Benin to the top of Group H alongside Algeria with a shock win over the third-place winner at the African Cup of Nations in February.
Uganda drew 1-1 in Angola after Emmanuel Okwi equalized three minutes from time for the visitors. Niger and recent African Cup co-host and quarterfinalist Gabon drew 0-0, while Guinea won 1-0 in Zimbabwe through a 25th-minute goal at National Stadium in Harare by Stuttgart’s Ibrahima Traore.
Zimbabwe interim coach Rahman Gumbo was missing a host of players after they were suspended for their roles in a match-fixing scandal that has rocked the game in the southern African country.
After the first weekend of games in Africa’s main qualifying competition, Central African Republic is the surprise leader of Group A ahead of South Africa and Ethiopia. Nigeria took control of Group F, with Kenya and Malawi joint second.
Guinea joined Egypt at the top of Group G. Libya and Togo trail Cameroon in Group I.
The 10 group winners will play off at the end of next year for five places at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.