Egypt began a quest to reach the World Cup finals for the first time since 1990 by defeating Mozambique 2-0 on Friday at a deserted military stadium in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
While the Pharaohs were achieving a routine victory, 2006 and 2010 qualifiers Ghana overwhelmed little Lesotho 7-0 at home in a match halted temporarily by a power failure soon after half-time.
Defender Mahmoud Fathallah put Group G top seeds Egypt ahead early in the second half and an own goal from goalkeeper Joao Rafael Kapango just past the hour mark sealed the fate of the bottom-seeded Mambas.
Authorities barred spectators because of political instability in the country since the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak last year, and there has been no domestic football since 74 died in post-match Port Said rioting four months ago.
This was the first fixture in the group and the other contenders, Zimbabwe and Guinea, clash in Harare today. The country topping the six-round mini-league advances to the knockout final qualifying stage late next year.
Although Egypt boast a record seven Africa Cup of Nations titles, they have appeared only twice at the World Cup and new US coach Bob Bradley is acutely aware of expectations in the vast Arab nation.
“Our goal, our mission is to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil,” he stressed during the build-up to the qualifier. “This is something that drives all of us — players, coaches and supporters.”
Former US coach Bradley and his national squad mix of old and new faces prepared for the match with a series of friendlies in various Middle East venues and Sudan.
New Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah could not have wished for a better start in a tough Group D that includes reigning African champions Zambia and unpredictable Sudan.
Midfielder Sulley Muntari triggered the rout after 15 minutes and there were braces for recalled Dominic Adiyiah and fellow striker Jordan Ayew before two newcomers, midfielder Christian Atsu and defender Jeremiah Akaminko, scored.
Meanwhile Mali have lost home advantage over Algeria in their 2014 World Cup qualifier on the weekend because of ongoing security concerns in the politically troubled nation.
World soccer governing body FIFA said on Friday that the Group H fixture originally scheduled for Bamako on Saturday would now be played on Sunday in Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou.
Club sides Al Ahly from Egypt and Sunshine Stars from Nigeria were stranded for several days in Bamako recently after a coup and an attempted counter-coup forced the closure of the city’s airport.