By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang banished ghosts of the past with the decisive penalty that enabled Gabon to become the first country to book their spot in Africa’s final World Cup qualifying groups.
Egypt suffered a shock setback and Algeria had to claw their way back for a draw in the second round, first leg matches played on Saturday.
The Borussia Dortmund striker Aubameyang blasted home the decisive final kick of Gabon’s narrow post-match penalty shootout win over Mozambique.
Gabon had won the second leg 1-0, having lost the first leg in Maputo on Wednesday by the same scoreline. Aubameyang, who had mysteriously missed the midweek encounter, was restored to the line-up on Saturday as Gabon took an early lead through Malick Evouna but they failed to add to their tally.
The Bundesliga luminary had a crucial penalty saved in 2012 when Gabon co-hosted the African Nations Cup that saw his country eliminated in the quarter-finals.
So the pressure was huge as Aubameyang stepped up to ensure their progress. He did so with a powerful finish.
Gabon will be joined by 19 other countries on Sunday and Tuesday as the last round of knock-out elimination is completed and aggregate winners go forward to the final group stage, which starts in October next year.
In Ndjamena, Egypt, who have suffered repeated World Cup qualification calamities since their last finals appearance in Italy in 1990, lost 1-0 away to lowly Chad, who earlier this week were advertising for the services of a coach.
Ezekiel Ndouasel scored the winner in the 73rd minute although Egypt host the return leg on Tuesday in Alexandria and are expected to bounce back.
Islam Slimani netted twice in two minutes late in the game to see Algeria come from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Tanzania in steamy Dar-es-Salaam.
Algeria, who reached the second round of the last World Cup in Brazil, host the return leg in Blida on Tuesday.
There was a seven-goal thriller in Addis Ababa as Congo won 4-3 away against Ethiopia, coming from 1-0 down to go 4-1 up before conceding two late goals.
Defensive midfielder Samba Sow scored a vital goal 10 minutes into the second half to reduce the deficit as Mali lost 2-1 in Botswana.
The home side, coached by Englishman Peter Butler, went 2-0 up within the opening 25 minutes through Tapiwa Gadibolae and Joel Mogorosi.
(Editing by Ian Chadband)