Egypt revived hopes of appearing at the World Cup for the first time in 20 years with a 3-0 triumph over Rwanda in Cairo on Sunday.
It was a must-win game for the “Pharaohs” and midfielders Mohamed Aboutrika (twice) and Hosny Abd Rabou scored in the second half for a team that troubled Brazil and beat world champions Italy last month at the Confederations Cup.
Victory lifted reigning African champions Egypt from last place in the Group C table to second, level on four points with Zambia and three adrift of Algeria at the halfway stage of the final qualifying phase.
Rwanda have only one point in the race to finish first and qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The matches double as eliminators for the 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola with the top three teams on the final standings securing places at a championship staged every two years.
A home draw with Zambia and away loss to Algeria placed unexpected pressure on an Egyptian team lacking skipper Ahmed Hassan, fellow midfielder Ahmed Fathi and striker Amr Zaki through injury and suspension.
Hassan rallied his team-mates ahead of the crucial game by insisting all was not lost in the chase to overtake resurgent Algeria and they were quickly into their stride without being able to sting the ‘Wasps’ defense.
Defender Wael Gomaa, Abd Rabou and Germany-based striker Mohamed Zidan squandered chances to break the deadlock before the central Africans settled, using the offside trap effectively.
Rwanda created a clearcut chance only for a Harouna Niyonzima chip to finish just off target with veteran goalkeeper Essam al-Hadary beaten.
Unmarked Zidan allowed another chance to slip before Rwandan goalkeeper Jean-Claude Ndori was finally beaten 20 minutes into the second half when Aboutrika headed an Abd Rabou cross into the net.
Abd Rabou got the second by sending Ndori the wrong way from a 76th-minute penalty awarded for a foul on substitute striker Ahmed Raouf and Aboutrika tapped home the third three minutes into stoppage time.
Egypt visit Rwanda and Zambia in September and October before completing their mini-league schedule at home to twice World Cup qualifiers Algeria during November.