By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Morocco and the Democratic Republic of Congo both advanced towards another World Cup finals appearance on Sunday but without much conviction as they booked places in the final phase of African qualification for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
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 Guinea, Uganda, Zambia and the Congolese, who, as Zaire, played at the 1974 finals in West Germany.
DR Congo qualified despite being held 2-2 at home by tiny neighbours Burundi in a disappointing result on their return to Kinshasa’s newly-refurbished Martyrs Stadium.
Two late goals gave the Congolese a 3-2 away win in Thursday’s first leg and they were expecting an easy return match, 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 put the Congolese back ahead but Burundi ensured an anxious finish when they equalised near the end with a spot kick of their own, converted by Fiston Abdul Razak.
Seventeen-year-old Farouk Miya netted two of Uganda’s three first-half goals in a 3-0 win in Kampala, ensuring a 4-0 aggregate triumph, while Winston Kalengo’s 81st minute goal sealed Zambia’s 2-0 win over Sudan in Ndola to advance 3-0 over the two legs.
Guinea, forced to host their tie against Namibia in Morocco because of the Ebola ban, were 2-0 victors in Casablanca to also advance in convincing fashion.
Gabon qualified on Saturday with the remaining 14 places to be decided on Tuesday at the conclusion of the second round of knockout matches.
(Editing by Ian Chadband)