Nigeria the big winners on dramatic day of African World Cup qualifiers

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Nigeria were the big winners during a dramatic day of African World Cup qualifiers across the continent on Friday as they demolished Cameroon 3-0 to take a major step towards Russia.

Elsewhere, Ghana’s hopes of making up for their sluggish start to the qualifying campaign faded as they were held 1-1 at home by Congo-Brazzaville, while Cape Verde came from behind to best South Africa 2-1 in Praia.

In Morocco, Herve Renard’s side tore back into contention with a 6-0 demolition of hapless Mali, while Tunisia beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 2-1.

The blockbuster fixture of the day was in Uyo, where Gernot Rohr’s exciting new Nigeria side went toe to toe with Africa’s champions Cameroon, themselves keen to put an underwhelming Confederations Cup campaign behind them.

The Super Eagles – looking to bounce back from an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying defeat by South Africa – started strongly, with the returning Odion Ighalo’s movement causing endless headaches for the Indomitable Lions centre-backs Adolphe Teikeu and Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui, both of whom were booked inside the first half an hour.

The China -based hitman opened the scoring in the 29th minute after being set up by the returning John Obi Mikel, before the midfielder – another CSL import – added a second before the break.

Any hopes Hugo Broos had of his beleaguered champions getting back into the contest were dashed in the 55th minute when Victor Moses scored on the counter attack, before substitute Kelechi Iheanacho added a fourth 14 minutes from time.

The result takes the Super Eagles – apparently revitalised after missing out on the last two Nations Cups – on nine points in Group B, seven ahead of Cameroon.

Zambia and Algeria – both on one point – meet in Lusaka on Saturday, but both face a near insurmountable challenge to overhaul the two-time African champions.

Ghana’s hopes of joining neighbours Nigeria in Russia and qualifying for a fourth consecutive World Cup were all but extinguished when they were held 1-1 by Congo-Brazzaville in Kumasi.

It could have been worse for the Black Stars, who lacked offensive cohesion and struggled to deal with the lively Thievy Bifouma. The Osmanlispor man opened the scoring in the 18th minute after a mistake from debuting Joseph Attamah, and while Thomas Partey rescued a point five minutes from time, it wasn’t enough to prevent the home supporters from turning on their team.

By missing out on the victory, Ghana wholly failed to capitalise on Uganda’s shock 1-0 victory over Egypt on Thursday and remain in third on two points, five behind the Cranes in top spot.

In Group A, Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of Congo began the day level in top spot on six points, but the North Africans displaced their opponents in pole position after a 2-1 victory in Rades.

Goals from Yassine Meriah and Ghailene Chaalali either side of Cedric Bakambu’s close-range header ensured maximum points for the Eagles of Carthage after a feisty encounter, although the Leopards can return to pole position if they win the return fixture in Kinshasa on Tuesday.

South Africa have struggled for consistency in recent years, and they failed to build on their recent fine form in Praia despite taking the lead against Cape Verde through Tokelo Rantie’s 14th-minute effort.

Nuno Rocha struck twice in five first-half minutes – the second a penalty after Dean Furman’s foul on Ryan Mendes – before Erick Mathoho’s mindless sending off for the visitors essentially ended all hopes of a comeback.

While Bafana Bafana are left to lick their wounds and plot how to neutralise the Sharks in the return match in Durban, their defeat came as good news for group leaders Burkina Faso and second-placed Senegal ahead of their clash in Dakar on Saturday.

Finally, in Group C, Morocco flexed their offensive muscles with a rampant 6-0 demolition of hapless Mali to storm into top spot.

Previously goalless after drab stalemates in their opening two fixtures, the sensational Hakim Ziyech inspired the Atlas Lions to a memorable victory, although two goals in the last five minutes added gloss to the scoreline.

If Mali can pull themselves together before the reverse fixture in Bamako next week, they would move one point behind the North Africans – so tight is the group – but Alain Giresse’s side lacked shape and character on the day, with both Bakaye Dibassy and Mohamed Oumar Konate sent off.

The other two sides in the group – the Ivory Coast and Gabon – meet in Libreville on Saturday.

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