Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Malawi all boosted their FIFA World Cup™ qualifying bids as Africa's hopefuls did battle for the 17 remaining places in the preliminary competition's third round.
Arguably the most dramatic events centred around Group 6, where Senegal's misery continued with the spurning of a gilt-edged opportunity to snatch top spot. With Liberia holding leaders Algeria to a goalless draw in Monrovia, all the Lions required was three points at home to Gambia to leapfrog the Algerians and climb to the section's summit. Kader Mangane's 67th-minute goal looked to have given them that victory too, but Dakar was silenced three minutes from time when Gambia's Tijan Jaiteh popped up to score a dramatic and potentially crucial equaliser.
Group 5 also supplied excitement aplenty, with Ghana's Black Stars seizing a decisive advantage in their attempts to qualify ahead of Libya and Gabon. Goals from Sulley Muntari, Manuel Agogo and Matthew Amoah sealed a resounding 3-0 win over Lesotho that, combined with Gabon's 1-0 victory over Libya, leaves Milovan Rajevac's side in prime position to advance to the next stage.
As for the undisputed star of the day, step forward Emmanuel Adebayor. Togo's talisman was in sensational form, scoring four times as the Sparrowhawks revived their hopes of qualifying from the three-team Group 11 with a spectacular 6-0 victory over Swaziland in Accra.
A weekend of guaranteed drama had earlier kicked off in Blantyre, Malawi, where the hosts inflicted a 2-1 defeat on Group 12 rivals Congo DR. The result leaves the Flames well placed in the race to pip the Congolese Leopards to second place in a section dominated by African champions Egypt. The Pharaohs are expected to confirm their place in the next round, and top spot, when they play host to Djibouti tomorrow.
The Cape Verde Islands, meanwhile, suffered a blow to their hopes of qualifying in the afternoon's second match when they went down to a 3-1 defeat away to already-eliminated Tanzania. Joao de Deus's side will still claim second place in Group 1, already won by Cameroon, but they needed to claim at least a point in Dar Es Salaam to ensure they finished among the eight best-placed runners-up.
Although Cameroon had already sewn up their place in the third round, there was no let-up in the Indomitable Lions' standards as they swept aside Mauritius in clinical fashion. Samuel Eto'o and Albert Meyong Ze grabbed a brace apiece as Otto Pfister's side secured their fifth win in six second-stage matches.
Elsewhere, Zimbabwe's ambitions were crushed by a 4-2 defeat in Namibia that ends their hopes of advancing from Group 2. Guinea and Kenya meet tomorrow in Conakry in a match that will decide which of them qualifies as the section's winners.
Over in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire's domination of Group 7 continued with a comfortable 3-0 win over Madagascar in which Boubacar Sanogo netted twice before Chelsea's Salomon Kalou completed the scoring. With the Elephants unbeaten after six matches, second place looks certain to go to Mozambique, 1-0 winners in Botswana, although they face a wait to see if they will progress as one of the best placed runners-up.
As for Mali, they all but made sure of claiming top spot in Group 10 with a 2-1 win at home to Chad. The visitors looked to have snatched an unlikely draw from Frederic Kanoute and Co when Leger Djime scored with 15 minutes remaining, but an 83rd-minute winner from Tenema Ndiaye ensured the hosts emerged with all three points. Further down the table, Sudan leapfrogged Congo into second spot with a 2-0 win in Omdurman, with Mohamed Tahir and Faisal Agab grabbing the all-important goals.
In Group 9, where Burkina Faso have been a major revelation, Tunisia succeeded in recovering some ground at the top with a thumping 5-0 home win over the Seychelles. Hichem Assi scored a double as the North Africans edged closer to the summit, leaving Burkina Faso facing a vital match in Burundi tomorrow before they can be assured of qualifying as group winners.
Nigeria, another of African football's traditional giants, made light work of Sierra Leone in Abuja, recovering from a Joseph Yobo own-goal to secure a 4-1 victory courtesy of strikes from Chris Obodo, Victor Obinna, Peter Odemwingie and Chris Odiah. The victory preserved the Super Eagles' unblemished qualifying record thus far and also served to revive South African hopes of snatching second place.
The 2010 hosts, for their part, grasped this opportunity with a 1-0 win away to Equatorial Guinea but, like so many other sides, they now face a nervous wait to see if that is enough to see them through to the third stage.
A frantic day's action concluded in Rabat, where Morocco ascended to the summit of Group 8 with a 4-1 victory over Mauritania. Youssef Safri, Youssef Hadji (2) and Merouane Zemmama were on target for the Moroccans in a win that takes them ahead of Rwanda on goal difference in the three-team section.
Standings will be only confirmed when all of the Official FIFA Match Reports have been received.
African Zone results
Saturday 11 October
Cameroon 5-0 Mauritius
Tanzania 3-1 Cape Verde Islands
Namibia 4-2 Zimbabwe
Nigeria 4-1 Sierra Leone
Equatorial Guinea 0-1 South Africa
Ghana 3-0 Lesotho
Gabon 1-0 Libya
Liberia 0-0 Algeria
Senegal 1-1 Gambia
Botswana 0-1 Mozambique
Côte d'Ivoire 3-0 Madagascar
Morocco 4-1 Mauritania
Tunisia 5-0 Seychelles
Mali 2-1 Chad
Sudan 2-0 Congo
Togo 6-0 Swaziland
Malawi 2-1 Congo DR