Cameroon’s battle with Ivory Coast for one 2022 World Cup play-off spot will go down to the final round of qualifying matches after both countries won on Saturday.
Ivory Coast beat Mozambique 3-0 to remain one point ahead of the Indomitable Lions, who brushed aside 10-man Malawi 4-0 earlier in the afternoon.
Cameroon host the Elephants in Douala on Tuesday needing to beat their west African rivals, while a draw will see the Ivory Coast top Group D.
Nigeria and Cape Verde will also face off after both sides registered victories in their penultimate qualifiers, with the Super Eagles requiring a point on home soil to win Group C.
Elsewhere, Group B is wide open after leaders Tunisia suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat in Equatorial Guinea.
Egypt, Mali, Morocco and Senegal have already secured their places in the play-offs next March, when Africa’s five representatives in Qatar will be decided.
Indomitable Lions win as Onana returns
Cameroon’s game against Malawi took place in Johannesburg, with the Malawians among several countries whose home stadia are unfit to host qualifiers.
The Flames were reduced to 10 men midway through the first half when John Banda was shown a straight red card for handling a goal-bound shot from Vincent Aboubakar, and the Cameroon captain converted the resulting penalty.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa added a second just before half-time with a low volley from the edge of the box and second-half substitute Christian Bassogog added two late goals from close range.
The game saw Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana return to competitive action after the completion of his doping ban, with the 25-year-old making his first outing since playing for club side Ajax on 31 January.
That result meant Ivory Coast – who had also been deprived of home advantage – had to win against Mozambique to regain top spot.
Max Gradel gave the Elephants a 10th-minute lead in Cotonou, Benin, and Burnley forward Maxwel Cornet made it 2-0 on 61 minutes.
Fulham midfielder Jean Michael Seri then wrapped up the game in the final minute.
Both Cameroon and Ivory Coast failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and one will see their hopes of reaching next year’s tournament ended prematurely.
Equatorial Guinea upset Tunisia while Zambia’s Sakala bags hat-trick
Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea and Zambia all head into the final round of Group B fixtures with a chance to progress after Saturday’s results.
Equatorial Guinea moved level with Tunisia on 10 points as Pablo Ganet stunned the Eagles of Carthage with his 84th-minute strike which he fired in from the centre of the box.
Naim Sliti had earlier spurned a glorious chance to put the Tunisians in front, dragging his effort wide of goal.
And Zambia are three points behind the pair after Rangers forward Fashion Sakala scored a hat-trick in their 4-0 win over Mauritania.
Patson Daka opened Zambia’s account by chesting in a cross from Prosper Chiluya, and the Leicester City striker then turned provider to unselfishly set up Sakala for the second.
A Sakala penalty, after Evans Kangwa was fouled in the box by goalkeeper Babacar Diop, made it 3-0 before the break in Lusaka.
The 24-year-old completed his treble from inside the box just after the hour mark, with the victory keeping the Chipolopolo’s faint chances of making the play-offs alive.
Tunisia, who lead the group on goal difference, host Zambia in the final round of matches and Equatorial Guinea travel to Mauritania – with several permutations possible.
Tunisia must win to clinch top spot but Equatorial Guinea will go through instead if they better the north Africans’ result.
Zambia need the Equatoguineans to lose, and to then beat Tunisia by a three-goal margin.
Decider on cards for Super Eagles and Cape Verde
For Nigeria, a draw from their final qualifier at home against closest challengers Cape Verde will see them through to the play-offs.
The Super Eagles saw off Liberia 2-0 in Tangiers, with Victor Osimhen emphatically scoring the opener from the penalty spot in the 15th minute after Kelechi Iheanacho was brought down by Liberia keeper Boison Wynney.
Ahmed Musa came off the bench late on to add a 94th-minute spot kick after Wynney committed another foul, this time on Napoli striker Osimhen.
However, Cape Verde remain two points behind the west Africans in Group C after coming from behind to register a 2-1 home win over Central African Republic.
Isaac Ngoma fired into the bottom left-hand corner to give the visitors an 11th-minute lead and Julio Tavares equalised with an overhead kick six minutes into the second half after the defence failed to deal with a ball into the box.
Cape Verde turned the game around when Hungary-based defender Stopira headed in from a corner with 15 minutes remaining – and the islanders know victory in Lagos on Tuesday will see them win the group at the expense of the Nigerians.