Ghana have become the first team to qualify from Africa’s World Cup preliminary campaign, but the race for the other four places looks set to go down to the wire.
Ghana became the first country to qualify from Africa’s World Cup preliminary campaign, keeping up their 100 per cent record to build an unassailable lead in Group D.
Neighbours Ivory Coast have also won all four of their matches in their final group phase but they still need a point from their last two matches in Group E to be mathematically sure of going to South Africa.
The three other qualifying groups will likely go down to the final weekend of matches in November, with Algeria, Cameroon and Tunisia well placed to make up the quota of African qualifiers.
Ghana had seen off the challenge of Mali in June to set themselves up for an easy run-in, and when Mali were held in Benin, conceding a goal three minutes from time, it left the Black Stars, who kicked off two hours later, needing to beat bottom-placed Sudan at home to begin their celebratory party.
The 2-0 win proved routine with an early goal from Sulley Muntari settling nerves and then Michael Essien driving home a long-range shot in the second half. Sudan, who have overhauled their side considerably in recent months, looked tired from the effects of fasting during the Ramadan period, even on match day.
The Ivorians cannot be overtaken on points, only on goal difference, and would therefore need to suffer two heavy defeats in their last matches, away to Malawi and home to Guinea, to be denied a trip to South Africa.
That is unlikely to happen on the evidence of their one-sided thrashing of second-placed Burkina Faso, who had five put past them. Two of the goals came from Didier Drogba, who missed the first part of the qualifiers last year but is now fully in his stride.
The match was played in front of a reduced-capacity crowd of 20,000 at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium in Abidjan. The previous Ivorian home match in March saw some 20 people die in crush of spectators.
Cameroon have engineered a turnabout in their fortunes from last to first place in Group A, winning their catch-up game 2-0 against Gabon in Librevillle, and then deposing the group leaders again five days later, winning 2-1 at home in Yaounde. Samuel Eto’o scored in both matches.
Cameroon’s one-point lead in the group was also secured after Togo failed to beat Morocco in Lome, in their first home match after an effective one-year ban. Adel Taarabt came on as a substitute and dribbled through the Togo defence in stoppage time to force a 1-1 draw.
Nigeria and Tunisia drew for a second successive game, with Oussama Darragi also scoring a dramatic last-gasp equaliser for the visitors. The 2-2 scoreline in Abuja means Tunisia stay top of Group B with a two-point advantage and they will qualify if they beat Kenya at home and then Mozambique away their last two matches.
Nigeria have to rely on the Tunisians slipping up, but having done the hard work it is difficult to see that happening, condemning Africa’s most populous nation to miss out on a second successive World Cup finals.
Algeria’s revival continued in Group C,but their 1-0 win over Zambia in Blida was tinged in controversy when their visitors were denied a legitimate-looking equaliser.
Algeria are three points ahead of defending African champions Egypt, who had veteran midfielder Ahmed Hassan to thank for the 67th-minute goal that gave them victory in Rwanda.
Africa: the story so far