CAF Africa Cup of Nations runners-up Burkina Faso won away for the second time in seven days to keep alive hopes of a first FIFA World Cup™ appearance. A first-half goal from Aristide Bance gave the Stallions a 1-0 triumph in Pointe Noire over Congo, who have seen a six-point Group E lead at the start of June cut to just a single point.
And third-place Gabon are also in the reckoning as a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hat-trick helped them crush Niger 4-1 in Franceville and move within three points of the leaders.
Congo have ten points, Burkina Faso nine and Gabon seven, while Niger, who featured at the last two Cup of Nations tournaments after decades in the doldrums, have just three. Congo visit Niger in early September while Burkina Faso host Gabon, a team coached by Portugal-born former Stallions boss Paulo Duarte.
Sudan hold Zambia to Ghana's relief
Shock 2012 African champions Zambia - another team seeking to play at the FIFA World Cup for the first time - suffered a huge blow in Group D when held 1-1 by out-of-contention Sudan in mining town Ndola. Although the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) moved two points clear at the top of the table, they will be overtaken if Ghana triumph away to star-less minnows Lesotho on Sunday.
Ghana, quarter-finalists at South Africa 2010 after being the only side of six from the continent to get past the first round, have home advantage over Zambia in the final round of mini-league fixtures.
Netherlands-based striker Jacob Mulenga followed up a brace against Lesotho last weekend by putting his country ahead on 70 minutes, only for Mohamed Abdalla to equalise almost immediately.
Late show fires Uganda top
Uganda were also celebrating two wins in as many weeks under new coach Milutin Sredojevic, as they fought back to snatch a 2-1 victory over Angola and the Group J leadership. The Cranes moved two points ahead of Senegal, who face Liberia in Monrovia on Sunday, thanks to goals from Emmanuel Okwi and Tonny Mawejje during the final eight minutes of a Kampala thriller after Job opened the scoring.
Only pride was at stake in the Group A clash between Botswana and Central Afridan Republic in Lobatse, and the home side finished stronger to win 3-2 via goals from Jerome Ramatlhakwane, Mogakolodi Ngele and Ofentse Nato. Nicaise Ozingosi put Central African Republic ahead twice in the match, and the result completed a miserable eight days for the Wild Beasts after a heavy defeat by South Africa.
Bafana Bafana (The Boys) trail Ethiopia by two points ahead of a top-of-the-table clash in Addis Ababa on Sunday, and the three-time FIFA World Cup participants will be eliminated if they lose.
Elsewhere, Cape Verde Islands edged Sierra Leone 1-0 on a 12th minute strike from Nhuck, while Morocco sunk Gambia 2-0, with goals coming early in both halves for the hosts.