Djibouti defy odds, Zimbabwe survive scare and Rwanda set record
Djibouti triumphed unexpectedly, Zimbabwe survived a scare and Rwanda created a record as the first round of African qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar concluded on Tuesday.
French coach Julien Mette was hired by Djibouti recently and promised to restore the "dignity" of a national team used to heavy losses.
It did not take him long to succeed as a 0-0 draw in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) earned the "Shoremen of the Red Sea" a 2-1 aggregate victory.
Forcing a goalless draw in Manzini completed an amazing turnaround for the tiny Horn of Africa nation, who were crushed 8-1 overall by the then Swaziland in a 2018 World Cup eliminator.
"Officials did not speak to me about qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations, the African Nations Championship or the World Cup," Mette told the FIFA website.
"All he (the president of the national football federation) wanted was to stop losing 5-0 and 6-0 and I said I would definitely bring him that dignity."
Ranked 195th of 211 football nations, Djibouti must now wait for the second round draw, which will include the teams ranked 1 to 26, who received first round byes.
The 40 survivors will be split into 10 groups of four with the winners advancing to a final two-leg stage to decide which five African teams go to Qatar.
In Harare, Khama Billiat scored two minutes into stoppage to hand Zimbabwe a 3-1 win over minnows Somalia, whose solitary-goal first leg win proved insufficient to survive.
A dramatic finish to the return match saw Marshall Munetsi give Zimbabwe a second leg lead 13 minutes from time only for Omar Abdullah Mohamed to equalise.
Zimbabwe had to score at least twice to avoid a shock exit and Knox Mutizwa, direct from a free kick, and Billiat with a hard close-range shot netted for a dramatic victory.
Like Djibouti, Somalia have suffered many heavy losses in World Cup qualifiers with home matches having to be played outside the country because of an unstable security situation.
The side that tackled a Zimbabwe team packed with full-time professionals included Mohamud Ali, who combines playing sixth-tier football in England with being a driving instructor.
Meanwhile, Rwanda created a record for a World Cup qualifying aggregate winning margin in Africa by trouncing the Seychelles 7-0 in Kigali for a 10-0 overall victory.
The previous nine-goal mark was set by Ghana in a 1974 World Cup qualifier and equalled by Libya in a 2006 tie.
Rwanda fell just short of the record eight-goal margin for a single match set by the Democratic Republic of Congo in a 2002 qualifier and later equalled by Libya.
Guinea-Bissau, once minnows but qualifiers for the last two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, fell behind at home after 11 minutes to an aggregate-tying goal from Sao Tome.
The visitors, whose "The Falcons and True Parrots Team" nickname must rank among the most eye catching in football, retained the second leg lead until midway through the second half.
Joseph Mendes, who equalised in Bissau on 66 minutes, was yellow carded for taking his shirt off when celebrating, and scored again to give Guinea-Bissau a 2-1 victory.
The "Djurtus" (wild dogs) progressed 3-1 on aggregate to keep alive the seemingly improbable dream of coach Baciro Cande, who believes a team ranked 123rd in the world can qualify for Qatar.