Sierra Leone staged one of the greatest Africa Cup of Nations comebacks to draw 4-4 with Nigeria Friday while struggling Egypt were dealt a huge blow as talisman Mohamed Salah tested positive for coronavirus.
Nigeria appeared to have three 2021 qualifying points in the bag when they built a four-goal lead after 31 minutes in Benin City against opponents 88 places below them in the world rankings.
But a sensational fightback that began just before half-time as Kwame Quee scored reached a climax five minutes from time when Al-Hadji Kamara equalised.
It was the greatest Cup of Nations comeback since the 2010 finals when Mali drew 4-4 with hosts Angola in the tournament opener after trailing by four goals 12 minutes from time in Luanda.
Record seven-time African champions Egypt are only third in another section following draws with Kenya and the Comoros, and were hoping Liverpool star Salah could lead them to home and away victories over Togo.
But instead of playing for the Pharaohs in Cairo Saturday and in Lome Tuesday, Salah spent Friday isolated in a Cairo hotel room after testing positive for Covid-19 despite showing no symptoms.
The 2017 and 2018 African Footballer of the Year will undergo further tests, an Egyptian Football Association official said.
Senegalese Sadio Mane and Guinean Naby Keita, two Liverpool teammates of Salah, have recovered after contracting Covid-19.
In Benin City, Nigeria made a whirlwind start with Alex Iwobi (twice), Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze scoring in a 26-minute Group L goal blitz.
But Sierra Leone, who have won only twice in 14 previous matches against Nigeria, refused to surrender and Kamara scored either side of a Mustapha Bundu goal to secure a dramatic draw.
– Laboured South African win –
Nigeria have seven points, Benin three, Sierra Leone two and Lesotho one with the second and fourth-place teams due to meet in Porto-Novo Saturday.
Meanwhile, South Africa needed a Bongani Zungu goal on 90 minutes in Durban to seal a laboured 2-0 win over minnows Sao Tome e Principe despite 110 places dividing them in the world rankings.
Percy Tau put Bafana Bafana (The Boys) ahead on 55 minutes from the penalty spot after he was fouled and Zungu nodded a corner past substitute goalkeeper Nilson Taty.
It was another unimpressive showing by South Africa under coach Molefi Ntseki, who has achieved just three victories in six Cup of Nations and friendly international outings.
Ghana lead Group C with a maximum nine points, South Africa have six, Sudan three and Sao Tome are pointless.
Morocco were the most impressive of the five winning nations Friday, hammering the Central African Republic 4-1 in Rabat with Chelsea midfielder Hakim Ziyech bagging a brace.
The triumph under Bosnia & Herzegovina-born coach Vahid Halilhodzic enabled Morocco to replace Mauritania as Group E frontrunners.
Tunisia and Mali, both top-10 ranked countries in Africa, would have expected to win more convincingly than 1-0 at home to Tanzania and Namibia respectively.
Both needed penalties to succeed with Youssef Msakni scoring after 18 minutes for Tunisia in Rades and El Bilal Toure after 33 minutes for Mali in Bamako.
Tunisia top Group J with nine points, six more than Equatorial Guinea, Libya and Tanzania, and Mali share first place in Group A with Guinea on seven points followed by Namibia with three while Chad have none. AFP