Zimbabwe and Mozambique established two-goal first-leg advantages on Sunday in pursuit of 2013 Africa Cup of Nations places.
The often wasteful Warriors of Zimbabwe exhibited clinical finishing to beat Angola 3-1 in Harare, while the Mambas of Mozambique netted twice during the second half for a shock 2-0 victory over former champions Morocco in Maputo.
Algeria snatched a last-minute goal to defeat Libya 1-0 in Moroccan city Casablanca, Guinea won by the same score at home against Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo outclassed Equatorial Guinea 4-0 in Kinshasa.
Zimbabwe and Mozambique are rare participants in the premier African national team championship and their presence would be welcomed by hosts South Africa with the prospect of many supporters traveling from the neighboring states.
Angola and Morocco will enjoy home advantage in the return matches next month and the aggregate winners will be among 15 teams who join automatic qualifiers South Africa for the three-week tournament in January and February next year.
Mateus Galiano da Costa conceded an early own-goal, before a Khama Billiat shot and an Archieford Gutu header gave Zimbabwe a three-goal halftime lead that was trimmed early in the second half when Djalma Campos scored.
It was a competitive baptism of fire for Uruguay-born Black Antelopes coach Gustavo Ferrin, although the away goal gives Angola some hope for the second leg in Luanda.
Mozambique wasted several chances that triggered the constant booing of striker Jerry Sitoe, before Almiro Lobo broke the deadlock and Elias “Domingues” Pelembe got a potentially crucial second goal in stoppage-time.
Algeria won more possession in the North African derby switched from Tripoli to Stade Mohammed V in the Moroccan commercial hub because of the unstable security situation within the Libyan capital, but a match watched by a small crowd appeared doomed to end goalless until El Arbi Hilel Soudani struck a low shot into the corner of the net for his second goal of the qualifying competition.
DR Congo are virtually assured of returning to the Cup of Nations after a seven-year absence thanks to the whipping of this year’s co-hosts and quarter-finalists Equatorial Guinea.
It was one-way traffic toward the Equatorial Guinea goalmouth from the kickoff, with DR Congo forcing 11 first-half corners, but they had to wait 55 minutes before translating the dominance into goals.
Dieumerci Mbokani of UEFA Champions League group phase qualifiers RSC Anderlecht of Belgium broke the deadlock and completed the rout 11 minutes from time after Deo Kanda and Isama Mpeka also scored.
Mohamed Lamine Yattara finished off good work down the flank by Ibrahima Traore just after halftime to settle the clash with Niger, whose goalkeeper Daouda Kassaly made several fine saves.