The final round of qualifying for the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations got off to an exciting start in its first leg over the weekend, with the home teams finding most of the joy. The aggregate score after October's second leg will determine the 15 nations to join hosts South Africa at the finals in January.
The big match
Côte d'Ivoire 4-2 Senegal – Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Abidjan
Desperate to put the “nearly” tag behind them in next year's finals, the Ivorians came from a goal behind twice to win a pulsating encounter. Dame N'Doye opened the scoring with a stunning 25-yard blast that was cancelled out by the hosts' pressure defence that led to Salomon Kalou's goal. The Lions went ahead again from Papiss Cisse's acrobatic, looping header from the edge of the area, but the Elephants dominated the rest of the match and rumbled to three straight goals. First, Gervinho burst into the box and scored off the underside of the crossbar, then the Arsenal forward combined well with captain Didier Drogba to win a penalty, which the latter slotted home for the lead. Max Gradel confirmed the win with a deflected shot in the closing moments of an impressive performance by the Ivorians under new coach Sabri Lamouchi.
The shock result of the weekend belonged to Cape Verde Islands, who posted the most famous win in their history: a 2-0 triumph over four-time African champions Cameroon in Praia. A side that has proved to be no soft touch over the last few years, particularly at home, the Blue Sharks got goals from Ricardo and Djaniny to pile the pressure on coach Denis Lavagne and the limping Indomitable Lions. Without captain Samuel Eto'o, who is refusing to play for the team after a long ban by the FA, the Cameroonians are in danger of missing out on consecutive continental finals for the first time since 1980.
By the same score, Mozambique also shocked Morocco in front of a thrilled crowd in Maputo as they try to reach their second AFCON finals in eight events. Another one-time minnow proving themselves capable of keeping up with the big boys is Central African Republic, who eliminated record seven-time winners Egypt in the last round. The Wild Beasts kept alive their hopes of reaching a first-ever major championship with a solid 1-0 win over perennial qualifiers Burkina Faso in fortress Bangui, with the only goal coming from Vianney Mabide.
A pair of 2-2 away draws for Nigeria and Tunisia, at Liberia and Sierra Leone, left the favoured couple with work to do in the second leg although buoyed by away goals. The Super Eagles scored twice in the opening 15 minutes and were unfortunate to concede a second-half equaliser, while the Carthage Eagles got theirs in the last half-hour. Omega Roberts was a goal hero for the Lone Stars, while Alhassan Kamara’s header in the 87th minute seemed to have handed the Leone Stars a win only for wonderkid Youssef Msakni to equalise quickly after the restart.
Asamoah Gyan and Emmanuel Adebayor returned to Ghana and Togo respectively as captains, and the latter scored a vital late goal to cancel out Daniel Cousin’s opener for Gabon in Libreville. The Black Stars had an easier time, downing ten-man Malawi 2-0 behind a stellar performance by emerging talent Chris Atsu. Zambia captain Christopher Katongo had the only goal of the match against Uganda, who will not feel too bad about their chances going home for the second leg.
Goals were no problem for Sudan, who ran out to a 5-3 win over Ethiopia, or Congo DR, who found four in the second half against Equatorial Guinea. Mali and Zimbabwe also scored three goals at home to beat 2012 AFCON finalists Botswana and Angola respectively. Algeria were the only away team to record a win, although their 1-0 victory over Libya actually took place in Casablanca.
With time winding down, Elias Pelembe took control of the match for Mozambique. Known as Domingues, the South Africa-based forward set up a goal for Almiro Lobo and scored one of his own in the late going to give the Mambas a huge upset over Morocco.
45 – The number of goals scored in 15 matches, for an average of three per contest.
What they said
"We can win in Kampala. It will be difficult, but we will go there and l'm confident we will do it," Zambia coach Herve Renard on the defending champions' second leg at Uganda, who have not lost at home in eight years.
The reverse legs of the 15 ties will take place in five weeks on the weekend of 12-14 October.
First leg results
Côte d'Ivoire 4-2 Senegal
Ghana 2-0 Malawi
Zambia 1-0 Uganda
Central African Republic 1-0 Burkina Faso
Gabon 1-1 Togo
Cape Verde Islands 2-0 Cameroon
Sierra Leone 2-2 Tunisia
Mali 3-0 Botswana
Liberia 2-2 Nigeria
Sudan 5-3 Ethiopia