Ethiopia continued their recent good form when they held Benin 1-1 in Cotonou, Benin, on Sunday and reached the final qualifying round for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
Ranked 39 on the continent, they are the lowest placed country among the 30 survivors set to play two-leg ties during September and October to decide who joins hosts South Africa at the continental soccer showcase.
The Black Lions held South Africa away and defeated Central African Republic at home this month to lead a 2014 World Cup qualifying group despite being the bottom seeds.
Benin, who forced a goalless first leg draw in Addis Ababa, and are ranked 22 places higher than Ethiopia, went ahead on 19 minutes through Mickael Pote only for Alula Mekonnen to level just before halftime.
Mekonnen made light of the wet conditions to turn and slam the ball beyond goalkeeper Fabien Farnolle for an equalizer that put the visitors ahead on the away-goal rule.
A Benin team that also impressed in World Cup qualifiers this month under new French coach Manuel Amoros applied relentless second-half pressure without scoring again and suffered a heart-breaking exit.
It was a day of tense finishes with Togo and Zimbabwe also squeezing through on away goals and Mozambique booking their passage to the round of 30 by winning a marathon penalty shootout.
Serge Gakpe scored just before the hour mark to give Togo a 1-0 home victory over Kenya in Lome and 10-man Zimbabwe survived a late Burundi barrage in Harare to win 1-0 through a first-half Knowledge Musona goal.
Germany-based striker Musona struck seven minutes after midfielder Willard Katsande was red carded when a Burundian slumped to the ground after an off-the-ball incident.
Jerry Sitoe gave Mozambique an eighth-minute lead over Tanzania in Maputo, which they retained until 60 seconds from time when an Aggrey Morris goal brought the teams level on the day, on aggregate and on away goals.
Elias “Domingues” Pelembe, whose US$60,000-a-month salary is reportedly the highest in the South African Premiership, became the toast of his homeland by converting the kick that took his team through 8-7 on penalties.
There was no such drama in Kinshasa as a Democratic Republic of the Congo team already four goals ahead from a February visit to the Seychelles, triumphed 3-0 via goals from Dieumerci Mbokani, Issama Mpeko and Deo Kanda.
Algeria, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Uganda also secured second-round places over the weekend, with the final place going to the Central African Republic or Egypt.
Record seven-time Cup of Nations title holders Egypt suffered a stunning 3-2 home loss to the Wild Beasts last Friday and the countries clash again on June 30 in Bangui.