Ivory Coast came from behind twice to defeat Senegal 4-2 on Saturday in a 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier that lived up to its match-of-the-day billing.
Spectacular goals from Dame Ndoye and Papiss Cisse gave Senegal the lead in each half only for Salomon Kalou and Gervinho to snatch equalizers before Didier Drogba and Max Gradel scored in the final 10 minutes of a high-tempo thriller.
The teams meet again in Dakar next month and the aggregate winners of the second round fixture advance to the finals of the tournament in South Africa.
Ndoye put the visitors ahead with a volley that flew past goalkeeper Boubacar Barry and Kalou punished slack marking to poke the ball into the far corner from close range just before half-time.
A looping Cisse header from outside the box put the Senegalese back in the lead, but it lasted only five minutes before Gervinho burst through the middle and hammered the ball into the net.
Jacques Faty pushed Gervinho inside the area with 10 minutes left and veteran Drogba converted the penalty before Gradel gave the Ivorians a two-goal cushion.
Ivory Coast entered the last four Cup of Nations tournaments as favorites, but the closest they came was finishing runners-up twice, and many say next year’s tournament will be the last for Drogba and other 30-plus stars.
Zambia, who beat Ivory Coast on penalties after a goalless final last year, failed to turn a glut of possession into goals and had to settle for a 1-0 home victory over Uganda thanks to Christopher Katongo.
The China-based striker took advantage of sloppy defending midway through the first half to tap in a long Davies Nkausu.
Katongo was a constant threat to Uganda, netting again in the opening half only to have his effort disallowed and being foiled by the woodwork after the break.
Midfielder Rainford Kalaba was another Zambian to impress and came close with a first-half free-kick that beat goalkeeper Denis Onyango only to fly into the side netting.
Uganda, seeking a place at the Cup of Nations for the first time since 1978, spent most of the match on the back foot and were lucky to finish only one goal behind.
Ghana scored early in each half to triumph 2-0 against Malawi in Accra with Christian Atsu putting the Black Stars ahead and Anthony Annan also on target against rivals reduced to 10 men after James Sangala was cautioned twice.
Vianney Mabide netted during the opening half to earn surprise last-30 qualifiers Central African Republic a 1-0 home victory over Burkina Faso in Bangui.
The central Africans reached the final elimination round by toppling record seven-time Cup of Nations champions Egypt in the tournament’s biggest shocks.
Tottenham Hotspur striker Emmanuel Adebayor crowned his promotion to captain of Togo by equalizing in a 1-1 draw against Gabon.