The first round of return qualifying matches for the CAN Africa Cup of Nations 2008 delivered a number of surprises, notably a 2-1 defeat for Nigeria in Uganda and Angola's frustrating 1-1 draw away to Eritrea.
With two matches still to play, no team has made mathematically sure of qualification, even if Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon and Togo are practically assured of a place in Ghana.
In Group 1, the Elephants trampled over Madagascar in Bouake, Didier Drogba getting on the score sheet in a 5-0 win. With nine points from three matches and a goal difference of +13, Côte d'Ivoire already have one foot in the finals.
Having stormed to a dominant 3-0 success in their first meeting with Mauritania, Egypt avoided an upset by securing a precious 1-1 away draw. Their second consecutive draw on their travels keeps the Pharaohs safely on top of Group 2. Meanwhile Burundi grabbed a vital 1-0 win over Botswana and must go all-out for victory in Egypt on 15 June, having suffered a heavy 4-1 defeat when the two teams met on the first day of qualifying.
Nigeria stopped in their tracks
Nigeria came crashing back to earth in Group 3, losing their perfect record after a 2-1 setback in Uganda. Their closest challengers have now closed the gap to two points and have a superior goal difference. Meanwhile, Niger won their first match by overcoming Lesotho 2-0 at home.
In Group 4, the two-horse race between Tunisia and Sudan continues apace. Both teams boosted their goal difference over the course of routine home victories, Tunisia thumping the Seychelles 4-0 and Sudan overpowering Mauritius 3-0. The Eagles of Carthage therefore maintain their slender one-point lead, meaning that a draw will be enough when they travel to Sudan for the final match.
It was mission accomplished for the Indomitable Lions, who ran out 2-1 winners in Liberia. Meanwhile, Equatorial Guinea slipped to a 2-0 defeat in Rwanda, whose win ended a run of three defeats. Six points ahead in Group 5 and with a vastly superior goal difference, Cameroon have virtually sealed their place in the final phase.
Irresistible in their three previous matches, Angola faltered to a 1-1 draw in Eritrea, having easily won 6-1 in the first match. Nevertheless, the Palancas Negras should make sure of qualification on 15 June against Swaziland, who remain rooted to the bottom of Group 6 after a 1-1 home draw against Kenya.
There was a minor upset in Group 7 where Senegal conceded a 1-1 draw in Tanzania, having secured a comfortable 4-1 win in the first meeting. The Teranga Lions will now have to be on their guard when they travel to face Mozambique, who picked up a convincing 3-0 victory in Burkina Faso this weekend. The Mambas now edge into second place on goal difference, ahead of their home match against Henryk Kasperczak's men.
In Group 8, Algeria avoided a mishap by drawing 2-2 in Cape Verde. If the Desert Foxes win their next match at home to Guinea, they too can start planning their bid for glory on Ghanaian soil.
Group 10 gets even tighter
Togo extended their lead in Group 9 thanks to a 1-0 victory away to Sierra Leone, while Mali stuttered to their third draw of the campaign with a 0-0 stalemate in Benin. Three points in front and with the prospect of entertaining Mali on the final day of qualifying, the Sparrowhawks are on the brink of going through. However, the on-field events were quickly overshadowed by news of the helicopter crash over Freetown in which the Togolese Minister for Sport, several officials from the Togolese football association and other passengers perished.
Group 10 is now tighter than ever after the two top-placed teams suffered losses at the hands of the bottom two. Ethiopia inflicted a first defeat on Congo DR with a 1-0 win, thus making up for a 2-0 reverse in the first match. As for Namibia, the Brave Warriors lived up to their name by securing a 1-0 victory in Libya, enabling them to squeeze into second place. Everything is still to play for in this, the tightest of all the groups, especially since leaders Congo DR must yet face a daunting trip to nearest rivals Namibia on 15 June.
In Group 11, Bafana Bafana put on a fine display in a 4-0 win over Chad, building on their 3-0 away victory in the first meeting. The hosts of the next FIFA World Cup™ continue to enjoy a three-point lead at the top and have a favourable goal difference over Zambia, who moved into second place thanks to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Congo. The final-day meeting between South Africa and Zambia could prove decisive.
The match between Zambia and Congo was marred by tragic incidents as fans exited the stadium after the final whistle. A stampede led to the deaths of 12 supporters and left 48 others injured.
In the final group, Morocco made a decisive step towards qualification by running out 2-0 winners at home to Zimbabwe, having been held to a 1-1 draw in the first match. This means that Malawi must now win their last two matches, including the 15 June meeting against Morocco, in order to overcome a four-point gap and an inferior goal difference.