It was almost preordained that Didier Drogba would once again be the talisman for Ivory Coast’s World Cup qualification and score the goal that ensured a second successive finals appearance.
His strike also highlighted the enormous role he has played in his country’s recent upswing in fortunes as the Ivorians made heavy weather of a relatively easy assignment before he came on to sort out the situation.
The Elephants only needed to draw in Malawi in their penultimate Group E qualifier, a task viewed as routine and which tempted coach Vahid Halilhodzic into giving some of his fringe players a rare opportunity to feature in the starting line-up.
Drogba was among those who sat out, but when Malawi took the lead through Jacob Ngwira it forced a review of the circumstances and the inevitable appearance of the Chelsea striker on the field. It took just two minutes after his entrance for Drogba to score and make sure of the point.
The 1-1 draw means the Ivorians are the second country, behind Ghana, to go through from the African preliminaries, with the three other places to be decided on November 14-15, the final weekend of the qualifiers.
Most keenly contested will be the battle to win Group C between arch-rivals Algeria and Egypt, reviving memories of their bitter contest 20 years ago.
Algeria have a three-point advantage, but Egypt will go through if they win by three goals in Cairo, thus having engineered a remarkable comeback after a stuttering start to their campaign.
Both countries won their penultimate games. Egypt scored with their only shot
at goal in Zambia, but Hosny Abd Rabo’s 68th-minute winner proved crucial as it kept his country’s hopes alive.
Algeria had hoped for more goals against Rwanda but had to come from 1-0 down to win 3-1, the last goal a stoppage-time penalty from Karim Ziani that might prove decisive in the ultimate outcome.
In Group B, Tunisia have a two-point lead over Nigeria with both sides playing away in their final games: Tunisia in Mozambique and Nigeria in Kenya.
Issam Jomaa’s first-minute goal gave Tunisia victory over Kenya in Rades and they appeared set to qualify when Nigeria looked unable to score at home to Mozambique in Abuja – until Victor Obinna scrambled the winner three minutes into stoppage time to keep alive the Super Eagles’ flimsy hopes.
Group A sees neighbours Cameroon and Gabon separated by a single point and they too must play their last matches away. Gabon will play in Togo while Cameroon are in Morocco on what could prove a day of drama.