North African sides Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia struck first blood, winning the first leg matches of their Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup play-off qualification matches on Friday.
Algeria and Tunisia picked up vital 1-0 wins away from home against Cameroon and Mali respectively while Egypt’s Pharaohs clinched a similar result at home against African champions Senegal.
In the other two matches, DR Congo played to a 1-1 draw with Morocco while Nigeria and Ghana played to a barren stalemate in Kumasi.
Cameroon 0-1 Algeria
In Douala, Islam Silimani scored the lone goal as former African champions Algeria silenced Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions at the Japoma Stadium.
Slimani scored his eighth goal in World Cup qualification, thumping home a 40th minute header from Youcef Bellaili’s delivery off a freekick.
Before then, Slimani had come close for the Desert Foxes when he pickpocketed Michael Ngadeu at the edge of the box, stormed into the box but Andre Onana made a brilliant save for a corner.
The home side didn’t create much danger in the final third but in the second half, they had some opportunities to score.
Leandre Tawamba who had come off the bench had a chance when he calmly controlled the ball inside the box but his shot on the half turn was weak and an easy pick for the keeper.
Mali 0-1 Tunisia
In Bamako, defender Moussa Sissako was the unfortunate villain for the Malians, as he scored an own goal and was sent off minutes later as the home side lost by a solitary goal to Tunisia.
Sissako scored a bizarre own goal in the 36th minute when his attempt to pass the ball back to his keeper was awry as the shot stopper had moved off his line and the pass was a yard off his positioning.
It went from bad to worse as Sissako was sent off four minutes later after being adjudged to have tripped a Tunisian attacker as the last man in defense.
Before going a goal and a man down, Mali had two close chances, both falling on Yves Bissouma, but his curling shots from just inside the box went wide.
In the second half, Mali’s Eagles pushed hard for an equalizer, but Tunisia defended in numbers to preserve the slim lead.
DR Congo 1-1 Morocco
In Kinshasa, substitutes Ayoub El Kaabi and Tarik Tissoudali combined for the equalizer as Morocco scored with 14 minutes left to salvage a 1-1 draw with DR Congo.
Yoane Wissa gave his side the lead just 12 minutes into the match when his brilliant shot from distance took a wicked deflection off skipper Roman Saiss and into the net.
In the 27th minute, Dieumerci Mbokani also had a chance with a shot from distance but keeper Yasine Bonou kept Morocco in the game.
In the second half, DR Congo began with pace and four minutes later, Wissa almost scored a similar goal to his first but this time, he couldn’t put the required curl on the ball as it went inches wide.
They were pegged back in the 54th minute when Morocco were handed a penalty after Cedric Bakambu handled inside the box. However, Ryan Mmaee stepped up and skied the penalty, a huge relif for the home side.
However, they were left off the hook with quarter of an hour left when Tissoudali struck a sweet volley after Ayoub El Kaabi had brilliantly headed down a deep cross from Adam Masina.
DR Congo had to finish the match with 10 men after Glody Ngonda was sent off for a second yellow card in the 85th minute.
Egypt 1-0 Senegal
At the Cairo international Stadium, hosts Egypt laid revenge on Senegal who beat them to the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations title in Cameroon last month, beating them by a solitary goal.
Saliou Ciss scored into his own net just four minutes in as the Egyptians took a massive lead that they jealously guarded ahead of next week’s second leg.
Ciss saw the ball come off the crossbar and ricochet off his feet into his own net after Mohamed Salah had chipped over Edouard Mendy, collecting a deep pass from midfield.
Despite going down early, Senegal proved their worth with a good fight, especially through talisman Sadio Mane. In the 37th minute the Liverpool forward surged ahead but his shot was just over.
In the second half he turned provider, slaloming past a forest of bodies inside the box before feeding Famara Diedhiou, but the latter couldn’t hit the target.
Men single handedly charged the forward line, but Egypt defended with discipline to preserve the lead.
Ghana 0 – 0 Nigeria
At a fully packed Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi, hosts Ghana played to a barren draw with Nigeria in a highly publicized derby, leaving all to play for when the two sides clash in Abuja on Tuesday.
Both sides had chances to score, but none was lucky enough to find the back of the net.
Felix Afena Gyan, making his debut for the Ghanaian senior national team created a chance when he set up Under-20 star Abdul Fatawu Issahaku, but the latter’s shot from the edge of the area was saved by Francis Uzoho.
On the other end, Joe Wollacott also made a fine save to deny Moses Simon.
Uzoho was to be worked again minutes later when he went low to his left to keep out a shot from Mohamed Kudus. Just before that, skipper Thomas Partey had a shot from range which was deflected for a corner.