Ivory Coast beat Gambia 3-0 in FIFA World Cup qualifying on Saturday, while Ethiopia and Zambia gained crucial victories that put South Africa and Ghana at risk of missing out on soccer’s top tournament.
Lacina Traore, Wilfried Bony and Yaya Toure scored in Gambia for Ivory Coast, keeping Africa’s top-ranked team in control of Group C and on course for a place in the decisive five final playoffs as one of 10 qualifying group winners.
In Group A, Ethiopia’s run continued with a 2-1 win in Botswana to stay two points ahead of 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa and a step closer to a first appearance at the World Cup in Brazil next year.
South Africa beat the Central African Republic 3-0 in neutral Cameroon, but they have just two games left in the group stage to overhaul a two-point deficit.
Africa’s only quarter-finalists at the last World Cup, Ghana, are also in danger of missing out following Zambia’s 4-0 win over Lesotho, which kept the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations champions a point ahead of the Black Stars, who won 3-1 in Sudan on Friday.
Tunisia were held 2-2 in Sierra Leone, coming back from 1-0 and 2-1 down with Fakhreddine Ben Youssef scoring a 90th-minute equalizer in Freetown.
That still left Tunisia with a four-point lead atop Group B and in pole position for the all-or-nothing playoffs after Cape Verde’s 2-1 win over Equatorial Guinea.
Republic of Congo were the surprise leaders of Group E, holding a six-point advantage after drawing 0-0 in Gabon ahead of Africa Cup of Nations finalists Burkina Faso’s meeting with Niger yesterday, while Senegal head a tight Group J after giving up an early lead against Angola via striker Papiss Cisse to draw 1-1. Uganda beat Liberia 1-0 to close within a point of Senegal.
Ivory Coast cruised past Gambia for a third win out of four in their group, with midfielder Toure capping a smooth display with his late goal. Closest challengers Tanzania lost 2-1 in Morocco later on Saturday.
South Africa overcame a grueling 36-hour trip to Yaounde after travel problems to beat the Central African Republic with goals by Bernard Parker, Siphiwe Tshabalala and Katlego Mphela, but Ethiopia, who returned to the Africa Cup of Nations after a long absence this year, maintained their push for an historic World Cup appearance with victory in Gaborone. Ethiopia and South Africa meet in the crucial next round.
Jacob Mulenga had a brace for Zambia, who have also never been to the World Cup finals. Ghana kept up the chase with the help of a brace from striker Asamoah Gyan in Sudan.
Tunisia’s hopes were boosted with Cape Verde’s victory over Equatorial Guinea, preventing the former Africa Cup of Nations hosts from closing the gap on the North Africans, while the Republic of Congo are also closing in on the playoffs along with Senegal.