Ethiopia defeated Niger 1-0 at the weekend in a 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations warm-up match between countries considered title outsiders.
Getaneh Kebede, the leading domestic league scorer with nine goals before a mid-season break, scored the winner on 38 minutes at a packed National Stadium in Addis Ababa. Both sides lacked several stars, notably strikers Saladin Said of Ethiopia and Moussa Maazou of Niger, as they play abroad and need only be freed by their clubs two weeks before the 19 January Africa Cup of Nations kick-off in South Africa.
Ethiopia, back at the African football showpiece after a 31-year absence following two away-goal qualifying victories, are in Group C with defending champions Zambia, twice title holders Nigeria and Burkina Faso. Niger face Ghana, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Group B and hope to improve on their maiden Cup of Nations appearance this year in which they lost all three mini-league games.
Ethiopia can expect tougher opposition on 7 January when they face 2004 champions Tunisia in the Qatari capital Doha, two days after Niger host fellow qualifiers Togo in Niamey.
Tunisia and Togo won in the Middle East with the Carthage Eagles defeating Iraq 2-1 in Dubai after taking the lead through a controversial Issam Jomaa goal while the Sparrowhawks edged Oman 1-0 despite having a man sent off.
Jomaa broke the deadlock two minutes after half-time in the United Arab Emirates, sprinting through to score, and there was a further blow for the Asian nation soon after when Fakhreddine Ben Youssef notched a second goal. Younes Mahmoud reduced arrears two minutes from time against an experimental Tunisian team preparing for Group D, in which they must tackle Algeria, title favourites Côte d'Ivoire and Togo.
The Togolese had a player red carded midway through the second half in Sohar, but survived the blow and defender Dare Nibombe snatched the winner with seven minutes left. Burkina Faso forced a 0-0 draw against Bahrain in Manama, an encouraging result for the Stallions, who are expected to have it tough against Group C favourites Zambia and Nigeria.
Record seven-time Cup of Nations winners Egypt, who will not be in South Africa next month after a shock loss to the Central African Republic, were too strong for Qatar in Doha and won 2-0 via goals from Hamdy al Sayed and 'Geddo'.
Bahrain atoned for failing to score against the Burkinabe by outclassing another CAN non-qualifier, Guinea, 3-0 with Faouzi Ayesh, Faisal Budahoom and Sami al Hussaini on target.