Guinea, Mozambique and South Africa,Uganda all produced surprise away wins on the opening weekend of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers to suggest the form book will have a few pages torn out before the 16 finalists for Cameroon 2019 are decided.
Saturday’s extensive list of matches saw Guinea upset 2015 winners Ivory Coast in Bouake, Mozambique beat 2012 winners Zambia in Ndola and second-half goals from Tokelo Rantie and Percy Tau give South Africa a first-ever victory in a competitive international over Nigeria, who were Nations Cup winners in 2013.
There was also a rare away win for Mauritania, whose 1-0 triumph against Botswana was only their second ever on the road in a qualifying game.
The Democratic Republic of Congo beat neighbours Congo 3-1 while Burkina Faso, third at the finals in Gabon earlier this year, registered the same scoreline at home to Angola.
There were also wins for holders Cameroon, Burundi, Guinea Bissau, Malawi, Mali and Sierra Leone, while the Cape Verde Islands’ game against Uganda was postponed by 24 hours after the visitors were late in arriving.
Seydou Doumbia returned to the Ivory Coast side to score a double but Guinea twice came from behind to snatch a 3-2 win with Bundesliga-based Naby Keita securing the winner 11 minutes from time.
It was a further setback for new Ivorian coach Marc Wilmots, the Belgian boss at last year’s European Championship, who lost his debut game 5-0 in the Netherlands last Sunday in a warm-up match.
Both teams paid tribute before the game to Cheikh Tiote, the former Ivorian international midfielder who collapsed and died in training with his Chinese club on Monday.
Mozambique had lost 14 and drawn four of their previous clashes with neighbours Zambia but German-born Stanley Ratifio, an amateur with FC Cologne’s reserve team playing just his second international, forced home a late goal to break a four-decade drought.
South Africa gave English coach Stuart Baxter, on his return for a second spell in charge, a winning start to his tenure as they weathered Nigeria’s early attacks and then dominated in Uyo.
Rantie headed home while Tau broke from his own half to beat the offside trap for the second goal with his first touch after coming on as substitute.
Mauritania scored 10 minutes from the end through substitute Abdullahi Soudani for a 1-0 triumph in Francistown.
Cedric Bakambu scored twice and Chancel Mbemba added the third for DR Congo to win in Kinshasa while Aristide Bance got two and Bertrand Traore the other in Burkina Faso’s victory.
As Cameroon are hosting the next finals, their results in the qualifiers do not count, but the 1-0 win over Morocco with a 29th-minute goal from Vincent Aboubaker served as preparation for the Confederation Cup, which starts in Russia next weekend.
There are six more qualifying matches on Sunday with Egypt’s game in Tunisia the main attraction.Tunisia caused another upset when they shocked 2017 Afcon runner ups Egypt 1-0 in what was a ding dong battle.
For Uganda Cranes the away win was a sweet one especially that they almost missed playing as flight hitch caused delays in arrivals for more than 12 players forcing the game to be postponed to Sunday.Uganda Cranes produced a virtuoso performance to beat fancied Cape Verde 1-0.
In other results Ethiopia were hammered 5-0 by on fire Ghana in a one sided affair as Zimbabwe Warriors battered Liberia 3-0 with Knowledge Musona scoring a hatrick.