Ivory Coast enjoyed a goal rout at the start of their World Cup qualifying campaign but fellow African heavyweights Cameroon, Ghana and Tunisia made heavy work of home games against lowly opposition on Friday.
The Ivorians, who will host January’s Africa Cup of Nations, won 9-0 at home to the Seychelles in their Group ‘F’ opener to create a record winning margin for a World Cup qualifier in Africa and make a bright start to their bid for a place at the 2026 finals when the World Cup will be co-hosted by Canada, Mexico and the US.
Borussia Dortmund forward Sebastien Haller started the goal rush on 20 minutes and Karim Konate from Salzburg completed it five minutes into added time.
Konate and Hamed Traore scored two goals each and Haller, Ibrahim Sangare, Simon Adingra, Seko Fofana and Jean-Philippe Krasso one apiece in a game that might have seen a bigger victory had it not been for some fine saves by Carlos Simoen.
Seychelles, a tourist destination off the east coast of Africa, are 195th in the FIFA rankings, 121 places below the Ivory Coast.
Before the Abidjan goal deluge, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Algeria shared the record with eight-goal winning margins.
While the Ivorians scored freely, fellow west Africans Ghana had to wait 96 minutes before Inaki Williams snatched the goal that earned a 1-0 win against Madagascar in Group ‘I’.
The Bilbao forward possibly saved the job of under-fire Ghana coach Chris Hughton by heading a Gideon Mensah cross past goalkeeper Melvin Adrien in Kumasi.
“This goal is very dear to me because my family was in the stadium,” said Spain-born Williams after scoring his first for the country of his parents.
Former Premier League manager Hughton has been under huge pressure since friendly losses to Mexico and the United States last month.
The Comoros Islands won 4-2 in the same group against the Central African Republic at home in Moroni, while 30-year-old debutant Youssoufou Niakate was among the scorers as Mali beat Chad 3-1 in Bamako in their game in the section.
Cameroon, whose eight World Cup appearances is an African record, struggled for much of a Group ‘D’ home match with minnows Mauritius before a couple of late goals completed a 3-0 win.
Brentford forward Bryan Mbeumo’s close-range finish on the stroke of halftime opened the scoring in Douala and Georges N’Koudou and Frank Magri netted when the visitors tired.
Tunisia, who have qualified six times for the global showpiece, also won comfortably at home, beating Sao Tome e Principe 4-0 in Group H in Rades with captain Youssef Msakni among the scorers.
Patson Daka scored twice as Zambia began their Group ‘E’ campaign with a 4-2 home win over Congo in Ndola, fighting back from a 2-1 deficit after 15 minutes.
Seydouba Cisse netted four minutes into stoppage time to hand Guinea a 2-1 win over Uganda in Group ‘G’ in a match played in Berkane, Morocco.
Guinea are among the 19 African countries forced to move their home qualifiers to neutral venues because of poor facilities or concern over the security situation in their country.
Despite the absence of skipper Naby Keita, Guinea took an early lead but Uganda, with Belgian coach Paul Put in charge for the first time, levelled through Fahad Bayo on the half hour.
Eswatini hosted their Group ‘D’ clash over the border in Nelspruit, South Africa but lost to Libya for whom Ahmed Ekrawa scored the only goal early in the second half.
Burkina Faso, who hope to challenge Egypt for the first place and automatic qualification for the 2026 finals from Group ‘A’, suffered a setback when held 1-1 by Guinea-Bissau.
In Group ‘H’, Malawi won 1-0 in Liberia as substitute Chifundo Mphasi scored in Monrovia.
There are nine groups in the African preliminaries where the winner qualifies for the 2026 finals. The four best runners-up get a further chance to qualify in a two-tier playoff system.