Nigeria scrape through, while Morocco look set for World Cup success

Cameroon eliminates Ivory Coast from World Cup qualifying (0:35)

Toko Ekambi's goal sends Cameroon to Africa's final round of World Cup qualifying with a 1-0 win over Ivory Coast. (0:35)

The African World Cup qualifying group stage came to a thrilling conclusion this week, with 10 teams left standing after three gruelling international windows and 120 fixtures across the continent.

Shocks were ultimately at a premium, as the group stage played out largely to form with nine of Africa's top 10-ranked teams, per the October FIFA rankings, advancing to the playoffs.

We turn the page on an engrossing campaign, and pick through the big talking points from the final gameweek of World Cup qualification.

Nigeria advance ... just

Gernot Rohr may have equalled Shaibu Amodu as the Nigeria coach to have overseen the most Super Eagles games in Tuesday's draw with Cape Verde, but his stock has rarely been lower.

The West African giants downed Liberia with two penalties in their gameweek five fixture -- only putting the game to bed in stoppage-time -- and they had to avoid defeat against the islanders in Lagos on Tuesday to reach the playoffs.

They got the point they needed to remain atop the group, but it was a nervy finale as Cape Verde sought a winner having cancelled out Victor Osimhen's first-minute opener through Stopira moments later.

The Eagles failed to build on their magnificent start, struggling to make the most of their chances as Rohr stuck with the 3-5-2 formation that had hardly convinced against Liberia in their previous fixture.

Beyond the irrepressible Osimhen, who consistently sought to pressure the visiting defence, and who was denied on several occasions by the impressive Vozinha, there was little to celebrate as Nigeria advanced.

Odion Ighahlo's big -- if perplexing -- return failed to get the best out of those around him, and the Eagles were, in truth, spared one of the most miserable nights in the nation's footballing history only by Osimhen, who weighed in with a vital late block as Cape Verde looked to up the ante.

Caution overtook the Super Eagles during the latter stages -- a consistent theme during Rohr's tenure -- and their defending of set pieces remains a concern, although the performance of Jamilu Collins on the left was one bright note.

On paper, Nigeria got the job done this week -- albeit in unconvincing fashion -- although this international break may have longer lasting consequences, with the decision to restore Saudi-based veteran Ighalo to the squad threatening to unsettle an already stocked forward line.


Nigeria scores crucial first-minute goal against Cape Verde

Victor Osimhen scores in the first minute of Nigeria's 1-1 draw vs. Cape Verde as the Super Eagles advance in World Cup qualifying.

Cameroon eliminate Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast, ranked No. 9 in Africa and No. 57 in the world, are the continent's top team already out of the running for Qatar next year.

They headed into matchday six in top spot in Group D, having overcome an opening draw with Mozambique to win four consecutive fixtures and take control of the pool.

With Patrice Beaumelle at the helm, the Ivorians have a functioning, authoritative midfield and an array of lethal options in the final third.

The French coach had taken 23 points out of a possible 27 during his qualifying games with the Elephants, but they fell at this final juncture as Karl Toko Ekambi netted the only goal of the game from close range.

Cameroon rode an emotional wave in front of a partisan crowd at the Japoma Stadium in Douala -- and a delirious Samuel Eto'o -- to see out the triumph, while Ivory Coast could only attack in fits and starts, lacking conviction.

The post-match press conference was engulfed by wild scenes of celebrations, from supporters and media alike, while Beaumelle could only bemoan his side's toil at the latest stage of a testing campaign.

"Cameroon are in the playoffs, but you're not there yet," he said on an audio received by ESPN.

"This is a marathon.

"To get to the World Cup, African teams have to completely exhaust themselves; this qualifying campaign is too hard.

"It's shameful for Africa to have just five qualifiers out of 53 teams; it's not even 10%."

When the dust settles on the Elephants' failed campaign, questions will be asked about Wilfried Zaha's omission from the squad, and Beaumelle's explanation of "homesickness" that was denied by the star player's Crystal Palace head coach, Patrick Vieira.

South Africa eliminated ... for now

South Africa's elimination at the hands of Ghana on Sunday evening was settled by a controversial penalty decision that threatens to cast a long shadow.

The Black Stars -- needing a win to leapfrog Bafana Bafana on the day -- sealed the win with a 33rd-minute penalty from Andre Ayew, although the decision was mired in acrimony.

Daniel Amartey tumbled particularly dramatically after minimal contact from South Africa defender Rushine de Reuck, with Senegalese referee Maguette Ndiaye subsequently pointing to the spot.

It was one of several question decisions by the umpire, whose performance was questioned by South Africa boss Hugo Broos, and the South African Football Association has confirmed that is has approached FIFA and CAF about investigating the refereeing.

There's precedent here as well, with South Africa themselves having been forced to replay a World Cup qualifier five years ago after the officials were deemed to have unjustly influenced the result of the contest.

On that occasion, the opposition were Senegal and the referee was Ghanaian, and there are uncomfortable parallels this time around, although it remains to be seen if it will end with a South African reprieve.

Algeria's run continues

Algeria 's relentless Fennecs extended their undefeated streak to 32 matches with their 2-2 draw at home against Burkina Faso on Tuesday that booked their place in the playoff round.

The North Africans have now played 33 games without losing -- fourth outright in the all-time international standings -- and three full years will have passed without them losing when they next play.

In truth, amid the many outstanding performances they've delivered during that run, which included an Africa Cup of Nations final victory in 2019, Monday's 2-2 draw with the Stallions was not among the more convincing outings.

Algeria, needing to avoid defeat, twice took the lead, through Riyad Mahrez and Sofiane Feghouli, but they were pegged back on each occasion as Burkina Faso caused trouble for the Fennecs' unconvincing backline.

There was an air of fragility about Algeria, and, while they will enter both the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup playoffs among the favourites, their pair of fixtures against Burkina Faso will have given would-be rivals hope that they aren't perhaps as imperious as the record suggests.

Morocco eclipse Tunisia on final day

Tunisia were the fourth team to secure their spot in the playoffs on Tuesday, as they romped past Zambia 3-1.

This settled a three-way dual between themselves, Zambia and Equatorial Guinea, who were unable to do their part and win in Mauritania.

No one will fancy facing the Carthage Eagles in the next round, even if they were handed a shock defeat by Equatorial Guinea earlier in the week, but their North African rivals Morocco are going under the radar as a genuine force in the continental context.

The Atlas Lions ended their magnificent qualifying campaign with a 3-0 victory over Guinea, barely breaking sweat after taking a 2-0 lead inside the first half an hour.

Morocco are looking the part, despite Vahid Halilhodzic's controversial decision to exclude Hakim Ziyech, Amine Harit and Noussair Mazraoui from his plans, and they are the only team in world football to have a 100% record in World Cup qualifying.

Six wins out of six, 20 goals scored and only one conceded is an outstanding return in a tricky group, and testament to the Bosnian coach's methods.

"[We're] ending this year in style," Halilhodzic wrote on Instagram after the match.

"We're kicking off the year 2022 with the objectives of realising a beautiful Nations Cup, succeeding in the World Cup playoffs, and making all Moroccan people proud."

Don't be surprised if Morocco prove to be Africa's most successful team in 2022.