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Ziyech scores in Morocco win but Nigeria draw again

Moroccan players form a huddle as they celebrate a goal against Zambia
Morocco became the first African side to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup at Qatar 2022 [EPA]

Hakim Ziyech's early penalty set Morocco on their way to a 2-1 win over Zambia in African qualifying for the 2026 World Cup, while Ivory Coast also extended their perfect start by seeing off Gabon 1-0.

Seko Fofana's curling strike nine minutes before the break put the Elephants three points clear at the top of Group F in what was the West Africans' first competitive outing since being crowned continental champions in February.

Meanwhile, Nigeria remain without a victory following their 1-1 draw with South Africa - a result which leaves Lesotho top of Group C after the minnows registered an upset over Zimbabwe earlier on Friday.

Madagascar, Mozambique and Uganda all recorded victories to move level on points at the summit of their respective groups.

The third round of matches finishes with two games on Saturday, with the fourth set of fixtures taking place on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Each of the nine African qualifying group winners are guaranteed a place at the 2026 World Cup finals, and the four best-placed runners-up will play off for a spot at an intercontinental tournament where the final two berths in the United States, Mexico and Canada will be decided.

Super Eagles toil again

Nigeria and South Africa met again just four months on from their semi-final clash at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, where the Super Eagles progressed to the final on penalties.

Since then Finidi George has taken charge of the West Africans, but pressure was on the hosts in Uyo before kick-off having only taken two points from their first two qualifiers.

South Africa's Themba Zwane had already clipped the top of the bar with a free-kick when the winger showed quick feet and composure to dance past both centre-backs and fire into the bottom right-hand corner in the 29th minute.

However, Nigeria equalised just 36 seconds into the second half when Fisayo Dele-Bashiru powered in a low strike.

Percy Tau spurned a glorious chance to restore Bafana Bafana's lead and moments later Samuel Chukwueze hit the bar for Nigeria, while visiting goalkeeper Ronwen Williams denied Super Eagles forward Ademola Lookman in injury time.

Group C is wide open after first-half goals from Rethabile Rasethuntsa and Jane Thabantso gave Lesotho, ranked 149th in the world, a 2-0 win away against Zimbabwe in a tie played in neutral Johannesburg.

Nigeria, two points adrift in fifth place, will now hope to register their first win away against Benin on Monday.

Atlas Lions hold off Zambia

Morocco became the first African side to reach the World Cup semi-finals at Qatar 2022, although the North Africans were made to sweat by Zambia.

Forward Ziyech, set to return to Chelsea following a loan spell at Galatasaray, had enough pace on his sixth-minute penalty to beat Chipolopolo keeper Lawrence Mulenga after Stoppila Sunzu brought down Youssef en Nesyri.

Eliesse Ben Seghir made it 2-0 to the Atlas Lions midway through the second half in Agadir when he converted Brahim Diaz's cutback.

But Edward Chilufya pulled one back with 10 minutes left when his superb low finish crept inside the right-hand post, and Sunzu headed over in the last minute of injury time.

Morocco were only playing their second match after Eritrea withdrew last November on the eve of the qualifiers beginning, and are three points clear at the top of Group E.

Tight at top in Groups G and I

Mozambique and Uganda both registered home wins to join Algeria and Guinea on six points at the top of Group G.

The Mambas beat Somalia 2-1 in Maputo after Alfons Amade and Stanley Ratifo put the hosts in control by the half-hour mark, with Ismail Shirwa halving the deficit midway through the second half.

Muhammad Shaban's close-range second-half finish was enough for Uganda, who were back playing in Kampala for the first time after stadium renovations, to beat Botswana 1-0.

Madagascar moved to the top of Group I after their 2-1 'home' win over Comoros saw them leapfrog both their opponents and Ghana on goal difference.

Rayan Raveloson slid in after just 56 seconds after Comoros were caught playing out from the back, and the Auxerre forward doubled the lead in the 66th minute when he swivelled and turned home after his initial dinked effort hit the left-hand post.

Madagascar's Clement Couturier made a brilliant block before El Fardou Ben Nabouhane replied for the Coelacanths in the fourth minute of injury time in neutral Johannesburg.

Angola win but Congo set for disciplinary

Mabululu in action for Angola
Mabululu struck three goals as Angola reached the quarter-finals of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year [Getty Images]

Angola climbed to second in Group D as Mabululu’s second-minute header was enough for a 1-0 triumph over Eswatini in Luanda.

The Palancas Negras remain unbeaten on five points and are two points behind leaders Libya.

In Group F, Burundi salvaged a 1-1 draw away against Kenya in neutral Lilongwe, with both sides now on four points and five behind leaders Ivory Coast.

Meanwhile, the postponement of Congo-Brazzaville's 'home' match against Niger on Thursday will be referred to a Fifa disciplinary panel.

The Group E clash was scheduled to be played in neutral Kinshasa, DR Congo, because the hosts do not have a stadium deemed fit for internationals.

However, the game did not go ahead - reportedly because Congo-Brazzaville wanted the game moved to Brazzaville at late notice and Niger insisted on the original venue.

The Red Devils are due to host Morocco on Tuesday, again in Kinshasa.

Friday's African 2026 World Cup qualifying results

  • Nigeria 1-1 South Africa (Group C)

  • Zimbabwe 0-2 Lesotho (Group C)

  • Angola 1-0 Eswatini (Group D)

  • Morocco 2-1 Zambia (Group E)

  • Ivory Coast 1-0 Gabon (Group F)

  • Kenya 1-1 Burundi (Group F)

  • Mozambique 2-1 Somalia (Group G)

  • Uganda 1-0 Botswana (Group G)

  • Madagascar 2-1 Comoros (Group I)