Africa Cup of Nations runners-up Burkina Faso won away for the second time in seven days Saturday to keep alive hopes of a first World Cup appearance.
A 38th-minute goal from Aristide Bance gave the ‘Stallions’ a 1-0 triumph in Pointe Noire over Congo Brazzaville, who have seen a six-point Group E lead at the start of June shrink to just a single point.
And third-place Gabon are also in the reckoning for top spot and a ticket to the play-offs after a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hat-trick helped crush Niger 4-1 in Franceville and move the ‘Panthers’ within three points of the leaders.
Congo have 10 points, Burkina Faso nine and Gabon seven while Niger, who featured at the last two Cup of Nations tournaments following decades in the doldrums, have just three and are doomed to finish last.
The Congolese visit Niger during the weekend of September 6-8 while Burkina Faso host Gabon, a team coached by Portugal-born former ‘Stallions’ boss Paulo Duarte.
Shock 2012 African champions Zambia — another team seeking to play at the World Cup for the first time — suffered a huge blow in Group D when held 1-1 by out-of-contention Sudan in mining town Ndola.
Although the ‘Chipolopolo’ (Copper Bullets) moved two points clear at the top of the table, they will be overtaken Sunday if Ghana triumph away to star-less minnows Lesotho.
Ghana, quarter-finalists at the 2010 World Cup after being the only side of six from the continent to get past the first round in South Africa, have home advantage over Zambia in the final round of mini-league fixtures.
Netherlands-based striker Jacob Mulenga followed up a brace against Lesotho last weekend by putting his country ahead on 70 minutes only for Mohamed Abdalla to level almost immediately.
Uganda also celebrated two wins in as many weeks under new Serb coach Milutin Sredojevic as they fought back to snatch a 2-1 victory over 2006 World Cup qualifiers Angola, and the Group J leadership.
The ‘Cranes’ moved two points ahead of Senegal, who face Liberia in Monrovia Sunday, thanks to goals from Emmanuel Okwi and Tonny Mawejje during the final eight minutes of a Kampala thriller after Job opened the scoring.
Only pride was at stake in the Group A clash between Botswana and the Central African Republic in Lobatse and the home side finished stronger to win 3-2 via goals from Jerome Ramatlhakwane, Mogakolodi Ngele and Ofentse Nato.
Nicaise Ozingosi put the Central African Republic ahead twice in the match and the result completed a miserable eight days for the ‘Wild Beasts’ after a heavy defeat by South Africa.
Bafana Bafana (The Boys) trail Ethiopia by two points ahead of a top-of-the-table clash in Addis Ababa Sunday and the three-time World Cup participants will be eliminated if they lose.
Cape Verde Islands, who caused a stir by making the 2013 Cup of Nations quarter-finals at the expense of Morocco, did Group B pacesetters Tunisia a favour by defeating Sierra Leone 1-0 in Praia through a Nhuck goal.
The result means the ‘Carthage Eagles’ need just one point from a match against Equatorial Guinea in Malabo Sunday to clinch first place and qualify for the play-offs.