Zambia and Morocco suffered setbacks in their World Cup qualifying campaigns on Sunday that put their hopes of reaching the finals in jeopardy and undermined previous predictions of a rise in their fortunes.
Zambia extended their winless streak to seven matches as unfancied Lesotho grabbed a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw in Maseru, while Morocco crashed to a 3-1 defeat in Tanzania to fall five points adrift of Ivory Coast in Group C.
Cape Verde Islands, the toast of the recent Africa Cup of Nations with their surprise run to the quarter-finals, crashed back to earth with a 4-3 defeat in Equatorial Guinea.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) were held to a goalless draw at home by strife-torn Libya on a day the minnows came to the fore.
Zambia were Africa Cup of Nations winners last year and had talked up the prospects of their current generation of experienced players securing a first ever World Cup place in Brazil.
The draw with Lesotho, though, has opened the door to Group D rivals Ghana, who beat Sudan 4-0 in Kumasi.
Zambia still lead the standings by a single point, but have to travel to Ghana at the end of the group phase in September. Coach Herve Renard said he feared the points dropped to 166th-ranked Lesotho could come back to haunt them.
Lesotho’s Litsepe Marabe grabbed a dramatic late equalizer with a rasping long-range shot after Collins Mbesuma had put 10-man Zambia ahead with 17 minutes to play.
Zambia had to play almost the entire second half with 10 men after goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene was sent off for a professional foul.
Morocco need a minor miracle to revive their fortunes in Group C after Tanzania’s foreign-based duo of Thomas Ulimwengu and Mbwana Samata (two) scored in a shock win in Dar-es-Salaam.
Morocco had spent the week training for the game in Dubai, but could only muster a stoppage-time consolation goal from Youssef Al Arabi.
Their much-vaunted squad has been consistently tipped to succeed on the African stage, but they have suffered a series of setbacks over the past 18 months.
Tanzania are second in Group C, one point behind Ivory Coast, while Morocco are a distant third with three games left, including a trip to Abidjan.
DR Congo had a chance to join Cameroon at the top of Group I, but played out a goalless draw with Libya, whose home-based players have been without league action for two years.
Cape Verde Islands lost their third successive qualifier and are almost certainly out of the running after Equatorial Guinea’s Emilio Nsue scored a hat-trick on his debut.
The RCD Mallorca striker only agreed to play for Equatorial Guinea after failing to make Spain’s squad for last year’s Olympic Games in London.
Ethiopia went top of Group A with an 88th-minute goal from Getaneh Kebede that gave them a 1-0 home victory over Botswana, while Mali went top of Group H after coming from behind to defeat Rwanda 2-1 away.
In Group G, Mozambique were held goalless by Guinea, while in Group J, Liberia defeated Uganda 2-0.
Additional reporting by staff writer