Ivory Coast wins World Cup qualifying opener; Ghana, Nigeria held to draws
Ivory Coast made a winning start to World Cup qualifying on Friday. Ghana and Nigeria were less successful, both held 0-0 by minnows at the beginning of their campaigns to reach Russia 2018.
As Africa's top teams enter the qualifying competition, Cameroon won 3-0 in Niger under new coach Alexandre Belinga, Senegal drew 2-2 away to Madagascar, and South Africa beat Angola 3-1.
Without injured striker Wilfried Bony, and with Yaya Toure still on a sabbatical from international duty, Ivory Coast edged Liberia 1-0 with Gohi Bi Cyriac's goal just before halftime. That gave the African champion a slim advantage to take back home for the second leg of the tie next week.
Andre Ayew and his Ghana teammates failed to score away to the small Indian Ocean island of Comoros but still hold the advantage ahead of their home leg.
Nigeria also couldn't break down Swaziland, with young Manchester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho making his debut for Nigeria and Obafemi Martins returning for his first international in two years.
Cameroon's three goals against Niger came in a four-minute spell before halftime, starting with captain Stephane Mbia's header in the 36th minute. Vincent Aboubakar scored with a free kick in the 39th and Edgar Salli got the third a minute later, capping a good start for coach Belinga, who has taken over on an interim basis following the firing of German Volker Finke last month.
Senegal has the advantage of two away goals after its draw in Madagascar, but Mame Biram Diouf and Sadio Mane had to score in the last 20 minutes to rescue the Senegalese from 2-0 down. Tunisia also avoided a big upset with second-half goals by Wahbi Khazri and Yassine Chikhaoui to win 2-1 after trailing in Mauritania.
Cape Verde couldn't avoid a surprise loss, though, as Michael Olunga headed in Kenya's goal for a 1-0 win for the East Africans.
Angola took the lead over South Africa when teenager Gelson dribbled through the defense to score inside two minutes. Bafana Bafana responded through Tokelo Rantie and Thamsanqa Gabuza to lead after 20 minutes. Rantie won a late penalty and Andile Jali converted it for a big advantage for South Africa for the second leg.
Libya beat Rwanda 1-0, with Libya's home leg played in neutral Tunisia.
Twenty teams will progress from this second round of qualifying and make a final group stage, where Africa's five qualifiers for the World Cup will be decided.