DURBAN, South Africa (AFP) - African champions Zambia claimed a crucial 2014 World Cup qualifying victory Saturday and Nigeria and South Africa drew after surrendering leads.
Zambia dared not lose at home to Ghana in central mining town Ndola after an away defeat by Sudan last weekend when the 40-nation mini-league phase kicked off across Africa.
Captain and midfielder-cum-striker Christopher Katongo made sure Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) did not stumble again, scoring the 15th-minute goal that earned a 1-0 win at the new Chinese-built, 40,000-seat Levy Mwanawasa Stadium.
It was a bitter blow for Ghana, who lost by the same score to Zambia in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals four months ago after star striker Asamoah Gyan had a penalty saved.
Former Sunderland striker Gyan quit international football after a deluge of public and media criticism, but his absence was barely noticed last weekend as Ghana routed Lesotho 7-0 in Kumasi.
It was different story against Zambia, though, as the Black Stars who found scoring so easy against the Crocodiles could not find a way past goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene.
Sudan are away to Lesotho in Maseru Sunday and success for the Falcons from east Africa would take them three points clear in Group D and raise hopes of a first World Cup appearance when Brazil host the next tournament.
Nigeria thought they had snatched three precious Group F points when defender Ruben Gabriel scored 60 seconds from time in Malawi only for John Banda to level four minutes into stoppage time for a 1-1 draw.
Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi ignored several England-based stars, among them Champions League-winning Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, and could face criticism after being held by a team 47 places lower on the world rankings.
Striker Henrico Botes netted five minutes from time to grab a 1-0 victory for Namibia over Kenya in freezing Windhoek, and second place in the pool one point behind the Nigerians.
South Africa caretaker coach Steve Komphela found the going just as difficult as sacked Pitso Mosimane as neighbours Botswana forced a 1-1 draw in Gaborone through an Ofentse Nato goal after Morgan Gould put the visitors ahead.
Centre-back Gould scored his first international goal with a glancing header off a corner from captain Steven Pienaar on 14 minutes and Nato equalised before half-time via a close-range shot after his first effort was blocked.
Bafana Bafana (The Boys) have now gone eight matches without a win -- one short of the worst run since the country returned from apartheid-induced isolation 20 years ago.
Mosimane was axed after a home draw with Ethiopia last Sunday and a permanent replacement will be named from Komphela, 1996 Cup of Nations-winning captain Neil Tovey, Gordon Igesund, Gavin Hunt and 'Shakes' Mashaba.
Godfrey Walusimbi converted an 85th-minute penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw for Uganda against Group J pacesetters Senegal in Kampala after Newcastle United sharpshooter Papiss Demba Cisse opened the scoring.
Tunisia won 2-1 in Cape Verde and 10-man Sierra Leone forced a 2-2 draw in Equatorial Guinea in Group B, and there were 1-0 home victories in Group E for Gabon over Burkina Faso and Congo Brazzaville over 10-man Niger.
Morocco host Didier Drogba-captained Ivory Coast in Marrakech later Saturday and there are a further 10 fixtures Sunday before the qualifying competition takes a break until next March.