Tiny Cape Verde Islands catapulted themselves into surprise World Cup contention with a 2-1 victory away to South Africa on Tuesday as the identity of the African qualifiers for next year’s finals remained far from resolved.
Nigeria, who did not play on Tuesday, look best placed to become the first of the five African teams to book a place in Russia as they will qualify if they beat Zambia at home in their next game next month.
The Ivory Coast went down 2-1 at home in a shock loss to Gabon to let a comfortable lead slip to one point in Group C and open the door for second-placed Morocco.
Tunisia took command of Group A as they drew 2-2 away to second-placed Democratic Republic of Congo, while Egypt opened up a two-point lead with a 1-0 win over Uganda in Group E.
But it was the small island nation of Cape Verde who shook up the African qualifiers as they registered a second successive win over South Africa that suddenly sees a country of 500,000 inhabitants in with a chance of a fairytale trip to Russia.
Garry Rodrigues fired home two long-range wonder strikes in the second half to stun the South Africans in Durban and leave the 2010 World Cup hosts last in Group D.
Cape Verde upset South Africa 2-1 on Friday in Praia and repeated the feat to reach six points, level at the top with Burkina Faso who were down to 10 men for 50 minutes but still forced a late equaliser to draw 2-2 with Senegal in Ouagadougou.
An own goal by substitute Pape Seydou Ndiaye in the last minute salvaged a precious point for Burkina Faso after Sadio Mane had made it 2-1 to put Senegal on course for an away win.
Gabon, without striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who was unavailable, scored two early goals to beat the Ivory Coast in Bouake four days after they lost 3-0 at home to them.
The Ivorians remain top but Morocco, who got an away draw in a 0-0 stalemate with Mali in Bamako, have closed the gap.
Mohamed Salah netted a sixth minute goal for Egypt as they edged Uganda in Alexandria and went above their opponents in Group E by two points.
Ghana, who have been to the last three World Cups, finally won a game in the group as Thomas Partey bagged a hat-trick in the 5-1 thrashing of Congo in Brazzaville, but they stay four points adrift of Egypt.
Tunisia fought back from a two-goal deficit to claim a valuable draw and maintain a three-point lead over DR Congo.
The result meant the other two teams in Group A – Guinea and Libya – were eliminated from the reckoning.
Algeria, who reached the last 16 at the 2014 finals in Brazil, are also out of contention after Riyad Mahrez had a penalty saved in a 1-0 home defeat by Zambia in Constantine.
Only the group winners qualify for Russia. There are two more rounds to be played which come next month and in November.