Former World Cup finalists Morocco and the Democratic Republic of Congo both advanced on the road to Russia on Sunday, along with COSAFA hopefuls Zambia, as they booked places in the final phase of African qualification for the 2018 tournament.
Morocco lost 1-0 away to Equatorial Guinea in Bata but qualified 2-1 on aggregate after winning the first leg on Thursday. This keeps them on course for a fifth World Cup finals appearance but their first since France in 1998.
They are joined in the final group phase by the Congolese, who as Zaire played at the 1974 finals in the then West Germany.
They qualified on Sunday despite being held 2-2 at home by tiny neighbours Burundi in a disappointing result on their return to the newly refurbished Martyrs Stadium.
Two late goals gave DR Congo a 3-2 away in Thursday’s first leg and they were expecting an easy return match at home, scoring first through French-born Jordan Nkololo.
But striker Dieumerci Mbokani, back to help defend a corner, skewed the ball into his own net for an equaliser that suddenly offered Burundi some hope.
Yannick Bolaise’s 77th minute penalty had the Congolese back ahead but Burundi ensured an anxious finish when they brought the score back to 2-2 near the end with a penalty of their own, converted by Fiston Abdul Razak.
Also through to the group phase, which kicks off late next year, are Guinea, Uganda and COSAFA side Zambia.
Uganda scored three first half goals to win at home over Togo in Kampala to ensure a 4-0 aggregate triumph while Zambia beat Sudan 2-0 in Ndola to advance 3-0 on aggregate.
Guinea, forced to host their tie against Namibia in Casablanca because of the Ebola ban, were 2-0 victors to also advance in convincing fashion.
Gabon qualified on Saturday and the remaining 14 places will be decided on Tuesday at the conclusion of the second round of knockout matches.