CAPE TOWN- Zambia marked their first home game since becoming African champions with a 1-0 win over Ghana on Saturday that not only helped them relive their celebrations but also restored their World Cup hopes.
Captain Chris Katongo’s goal after 15 minutes ensured a successful opening of the new 40,000-capacity, Chinese-funded stadium in Ndola and put Zambia back on track after losing their opening Group D game in the Sudan last week.
Their win was one of five on a busy day of qualifying across the continent where the other five matches ended in draws.
Tunisia were the only away winners, beating the Cape Verde Islands 2-1, while Namibia had a rare success as Henrico Botes scored an 85th minute winner at home against Kenya.
A last-minute equaliser, in a 2-2 draw with Morocco, ended the Ivory Coast’s eight-match winning streak in qualifying fixtures stretching back to late 2009.
Nigeria also gave up a stoppage-time equaliser to draw 1-1 in Malawi, while the woes of 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa continued with a stalemate at lightweight neighbours Botswana.
Zambia, who won a first ever continental crown at the African Nations Cup earlier this year, played their customary counter attacking game to take all three points from a lacklustre Ghana, who had beat Lesotho 7-0 the previous weekend.
The Ivorians, who Zambia beat in February’s final, were odds-on for a second win in Group C before Hamza Abdourazzouk equalised with a towering header.
Salomon Kalou and Kolo Toure had the Ivorians 2-1 ahead with 30 minutes to go and the stadium in Marrakech had started to empty before the late Moroccan reply.
Issam Jemaa again proved Tunisia’s talisman as he scored with delicate left-foot shot just after halftime to ensure victory in Praia, although he was guilty of squandering several late chances against the Cape Verdians.
Central defender Morgan Gould put South Africa into a 14th-minute lead in Gaborone with a header from captain Steve Pienaar’s corner, but Ofentse Nato scrambled home a 38th minute equaliser for hosts Botswana.
It was a second successive draw for South Africa in Group A, where they started as runaway favourites but have failed to justify the tag, now going eight matches without a win.
John Banda denied the Nigerians with an equaliser three minute into stoppage time for Malawi in their 1-1 draw in Blantyre
Gabon and Congo won in Group E, while new Senegal captain Papis Demba Cisse scored away against Uganda, only for a late penalty to ensure a 1-1 draw in the Group J tie in Kampala.
Another 10 African zone qualifiers are scheduled for Sunday after which the campaign for places in Brazil takes a hiatus until March next year.