Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Nigeria lost on Sunday in shock-riddled final qualifying round first legs for the 2020 African Nations Championship (Chan) in Cameroon.
Nigeria conceded three final-quarter goals to crash 4-1 in Togo, Ivory Coast fell 2-0 in Niger and a stoppage-time goal condemned Ghana to a 1-0 home defeat by Burkina Faso.
The Nations Championship is restricted to footballers playing in their country of birth, which deprived the three African powerhouses of their Europe-based stars.
But the Togolese, Nigeriens and Burkinabe also had to do without many professionals playing abroad who form the backbone of their national teams.
Return matches are scheduled for 18-20 October and the aggregate winners secure places at a 16-nation tournament set for January and February on dates to be announced.
Nigeria, runners-up to hosts Morocco in the previous final last year, made a great start in Lome with Ibrahim Sunusi netting on 11 minutes.
Nane Richard Yentoudie equalised soon after and scored again midway through the second half to trigger a late Togolese goal surge.
Marouf Tchakei converted a penalty to stretch the lead and Agora Ashraf struck in stoppage time to leave Nigeria facing a mammoth recovery mission next month.
Niger won 2-1 at home to the Ivory Coast in 2018 qualifying, only to be eliminated on away goals and they now have a better chance of overall success having built a two-goal lead.
REVENGE FOR SUDAN
Halidou Garba scored as halftime approached and Abdoul Aziz Ibrahim netted off a second-half penalty to double the advantage of the home side in Niamey.
Ghana, beaten finalists in two of the five Nations Championship tournaments, have now lost at home to Burkina Faso in successive qualifying competitions.
A couple of years ago the Burkinabe triumphed 2-1 in Ghana and this time they succeeded thanks to a solitary goal five minutes into stoppage time from Wendyam Pognongo in Kumasi.
Nations Championship qualifying is geographically based to cut travel costs and ensure each region is represented at the biennial finals.
In east Africa, there was a shock with Sudan avenging home and away losses to Tanzania in a previous qualifier by winning 1-0 in Dar es Salaam.
Yasir Mohammed el Tayeb scored the only goal on 61 minutes to puncture Tanzanian hopes of reaching the finals for the first time since the maiden 2009 tournament.
Zimbabwe built a 3-1 home lead over Lesotho in Harare with Prince Dube bagging a brace to become the leading scorer in 2020 qualifying with five goals.
Moroccan ambitions of becoming the first country to successfully defend the title were boosted when they forced a 0-0 draw away to Algeria in Blida.
Algeria were not able to call on any of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations-winning squad as they all now play outside the country.
Tunisia edged Libya 1-0 in a clash of former trophy-holders in Rades with Anice Badri from African club champions Esperance nodding the only goal on 54 minutes.