JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, June 16 – Egypt, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Tunisia Sunday became the first countries to reach the play-offs in the Africa zone of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
A spectacular own goal by Bernard Parker gifted lowest Group A seeds Ethiopia a 2-1 triumph over 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa in Addis Ababa and an unassailable five-point lead with one round left.
Mohamed Salah followed up a hat-trick against Zimbabwe last weekend by scoring the goal that earned Egypt a 1-0 win over Mozambique in Maputo and created an eight-point Group G gap over Guinea.
Reigning African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure netted twice in Dar es Salaam as Ivory Coast recovered from conceding a second-minute goal to defeat Tanzania 4-2 in Group C and they cannot be overtaken.
Tunisia needed a point in Equatorial Guinea to secure first place in Group B and that is what they got from a 1-1 draw with Oussama Darragi equalising for the ‘Carthage Eagles’.
Ghana, who were quarter-finalists the last World Cup, took a significant step toward reaching the play-offs with a 2-0 win over Lesotho in Maseru thanks to goals from Christian Atsu and captain Asamoah Gyan.
The ‘Black Stars’ moved one point ahead of Zambia in Group D and host the shock 2012 Africa Cup of Nations champions in the final series of mini-league fixtures during September.
South Africa took on Ethiopia before a sell-out 25,000 crowd needing at least a point to stay in contention and an attacking approach paid off on 34 minutes when Parker cracked a half-volley wide of Jemal Tassew into the far corner.
But the ‘Walyas Antelopes’ — 19 places below ‘Bafana Bafana’ (The Boys) on the African rankings — levelled just before half-time when Getaneh Kebede rifled the ball into the net from close range after a scramble.
The decisive goal came after 70 minutes when Parker fluffed an attempted clearance off an Ethiopian free kick, sending a flying header past goalkeeper and captain Itumeleng Khune into his sown net.
South Africa had several late half-chances but it was Ethiopia, who returned to the Africa Cup of Nations tournament this year after three decades in the doldrums, who came closest to scoring.
Salah helped Swiss club Basel reach the Europa League semi-finals this year and he was once again the star for Egypt, scoring the only goal in the Mozambican capital five minutes before half-time.
The ‘Pharaohs’ maintained the only perfect record in the African qualifying competition with a fifth consecutive victory and finish their schedule at home to second-place Guinea.
A stoppage-time goal from substitute Wilfried Bony sealed victory for Ivory Coast, who recovered from conceding an early goal to lead 3-2 at half-time in a thriller at Benjamin Mkapa Stadium.
Toure bagged a first-half brace after Lacina Traore had equalised while Amri Kiemba and Thomas Ulimwengu scored for the ‘Taifa Stars’, who stayed third behind Ivory Coast and Morocco.
Democratic Republic of Congo and six-time World Cup qualifiers Cameroon drew 0-0 in Kinshasa — a result that eliminated the Congolese and left Libya with a two-point Group I lead.
While new ‘Indomitable Lions’ coach Volker Finke will be relieved at avoiding a second loss in as many weeks after a 2-0 defeat by Togo, the absence of injured striker Samuel Eto’o was sorely felt.
Saphir Taider scored early in the second half as Algeria triumphed 1-0 in Rwanda and Mali must beat Benin in Bamako later Sunday to prevent the ‘Desert Foxes’ making the play-offs
Juvenal Edjogo converted a first-half penalty for the Equatoguineans in Malabo — his fourth goal of the qualifying campaign — and Darragi brought Tunisia level on 64 minutes from another spot kick.
At Addis Ababa
Ethiopia 2 (Kebede 42, Parker 70-og) South Africa 1 (Parker 34)
Note: Ethiopia qualify for play-offs
Equatorial Guinea 1 (Juvenal 36-pen) Tunisia 1 (Darragi 64-pen)
Note: Tunisia qualify for play-offs
At Dar es Salaam
Tanzania 2 (Kiemba 2, Ulimwengu 35) Ivory Coast 4 (Traore 13, Toure 23, 44-pen, Bony 90+3)
Note: Ivory Coast qualify for play-offs
Lesotho 0 Ghana 2 (Atsu 44, Gyan 75)
Mozambique 0 Egypt 1 (Salah 40)
Note: Egypt qualify for play-offs
Rwanda 0 Algeria 1 (Taider 52)
Democratic Republic of Congo 0 Cameroon 0