Liberia needed a last-gasp penalty save, Ethiopia an own goal, Tanzania shoot-out penalties and Equatorial Guinea a late strike to all win their World Cup first round ties on Sunday and advance to the group phase of the qualifiers for Qatar 2022.
The quartet are the first nations through from the opening knockout round, which pits the 28 bottom-ranked countries on the continent in two-legged knockout ties.
A last-gasp penalty save by teenage goalkeeper Ashley Williams ensured Liberia, coached by Englishman Peter Butler, advanced 3-2 on aggregate over neighbours Sierra Leone, despite losing 1-0 in Freetown.
Sierra Leone reduced the aggregate deficit through Kei Kamara after 55 minutes of Sunday’s second leg and would have won the tie on the away goal rule if they had scored the penalty in stoppage time at the end of the match.
But captain Umaru Bangura’s kick was easily stopped by 18-year-old Williams to ensure Liberia’s progress.
Ethiopia drew 1-1 away against Lesotho in Maseru where home captain Nkau Lerotholi’s own goal early in the second half provided the visitors with the vital away goal in a 1-1 aggregate draw.
Tanzania made heavy weather of their tie against Burundi after drawing 1-1 away in the first leg last Wednesday.
They were ahead in Sunday’s return leg in Dar-es-Salaam through Belgian-based Mbwana Samatta but gave up an equaliser to Fiston Abdul Razak on the stroke of halftime.
The match then went into extra time before Burundi missed all their kicks in the post-match penalty shootout, which Tanzania won 3-0.
Equatorial Guinea captain Emilio Nsue, formerly of Middlesbrough and Birmingham City, scored the 72nd minute winner in his side’s 1-0 win at home to South Sudan in Malabo.
The 2-1 aggregate victory proved a lot tougher than expected for Equatorial Guinea, who had beaten the same team 4-0 when they last hosted them three years ago.
The remaining 10 first round qualifying ties will be settled on Tuesday. The winners advance to the group phase where 40 countries will be divided into 10 groups.