Egypt, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Algeria on Sunday became the first countries to reach the playoffs in the Africa zone of the World Cup qualifiers.
However, a FIFA statement issued after the final weekend qualifier said it is probing allegations that Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea and Togo fielding ineligible players this year in qualifiers.
The standard punishment dished out by world soccer’s governing body during the African qualifying competition is that a country found guilty forfeits any points gained and opponents are awarded a 3-0 victory.
A 2-1 victory by Ethiopia in Botswana and a 2-0 victory by Togo at home to Cameroon this month, and a 4-3 win by Equatorial Guinea over the Cape Verde Islands three months ago are being probed, a statement said.
Should Ethiopia lose three points they would no longer be sure of winning Group A, if Togo lose three Cameroon would replace Libya as Group I leaders, while if Equatorial Guinea lose three Tunisia would not be certain of topping Group B.
A spectacular own-goal by Bernard Parker gifted lowest Group A seeds Ethiopia a 2-1 triumph over 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa in Addis Ababa and an unassailable five-point lead with one round left.
Mohamed Salah followed up a hat-trick against Zimbabwe the previous weekend by scoring the goal that earned Egypt a 1-0 win over Mozambique in Maputo and created a five-point gap over Guinea, who beat Zimbabwe 1-0, in Group G.
Reigning African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure netted twice in Dar es Salaam as Ivory Coast recovered from conceding a second-minute goal to defeat Tanzania 4-2 in Group C and they cannot be overtaken.
Tunisia needed a point in Equatorial Guinea to secure first place in Group B and that is what they got from a 1-1 draw, with Oussama Darragi equalizing for the Carthage Eagles.
After winning 1-0 in Rwanda, Algeria had to wait five hours before Mali were held 2-2 at home by Benin, a result that gave the Desert Foxes an unassailable four-point advantage.
Ghana, quarter-finalists at the last World Cup, took a significant step toward reaching the playoffs with a 2-0 win over Lesotho in Maseru through goals from Christian Atsu and captain Asamoah Gyan. The Black Stars moved one point ahead of Zambia in Group D and they host the shock Africa Cup of Nations champions in the final series of group fixtures in September.
Senegal went top of Group J with a 2-0 win away to Liberia.
South Africa took on Ethiopia before a sellout 25,000 crowd needing at least a point to stay in contention and an attacking approach paid off on 34 minutes when Parker cracked a half-volley wide of Jemal Tassew into the far corner, but the Walyas Antelopes leveled just before halftime when Getaneh Kebede rifled the ball into the net from close range after a scramble.
The decisive goal came after 70 minutes when Parker fluffed an attempted clearance off an Ethiopia free-kick, sending a flying header past goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune into his own net.
Salah helped Swiss club Basel reach the Europa League semi-finals this year and he was once again the star for Egypt, scoring the only goal against Mozambique five minutes before halftime. The Pharaohs maintained the only perfect record in the African qualifying competition with a fifth consecutive victory.
A stoppage-time goal from substitute Wilfried Bony sealed victory for Ivory Coast, who recovered from conceding an early goal to lead 3-2 at halftime in a thriller.
Toure bagged a first-half brace after Lacina Traore had equalized, while Amri Kiemba and Thomas Ulimwengu scored for the Taifa Stars.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon drew 0-0 in Kinshasa — a result that eliminated the hosts and left Libya with a two-point lead in Group I.
Juvenal Edjogo converted a first-half penalty for Equatorial Guinea in Malabo, but Darragi brought Tunisia level on 64 minutes from another spot-kick.
Saphir Taider scored early in the second half to achieve victory for Algeria in Kigali and a Mali side that has struggled since coach Patrice Carteron left needed to come from behind twice to hold Benin.
Additional reporting by staff writer