Algeria took a giant stride toward reaching the 2010 World Cup in South Africa by defeating Zambia 2-0 in Chililabombwe on Saturday.
Glasgow Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra put the ‘Desert Foxes’ ahead on 21 minutes and veteran midfielder Rafik Saidi from French club Lorient snatched the second with 66 minutes gone.
Victory lifted Algeria three points clear of the Zambian ‘Copper Bullets’ at the top of Group C midway through the final qualifying phase for the first World Cup to be staged by Africa.
Rwanda and reigning African champions Egypt, who have one point each, meet on July 5 in a Cairo fixture delayed by the ‘Pharaohs’ participation in the Confederations Cup in South Africa this week.
Algeria have home advantage over Zambia and Rwanda in two of their remaining three fixtures and if they continue their good form and win both it will raise their tally to 13 points.
That would leave Egypt needing to win their four fixtures – including one at home to the ‘Foxes’ – just to finish level on points with Algeria and see first place settled by goal difference.
Those four outings include visits to Rwanda and Zambia so a poor Egyptian World Cup record of making it to the finals only once since qualifiers were introduced in Africa 49 years ago seems set to continue.
Defeat before a sell-out crowd at Konkola Stadium in the northern mining town was a massive blow for Zambia, who had begun dreaming of a place at the South Africa finals after holding Egypt in Cairo and defeating Rwanda at home.
Bougherra struck against the run of play with a clinical finish off a free kick and a Rafik Djebbour-led couterattack ended with Saidi tapping the ball into an empty net.
Zambia coach Herve Renard from France made two half-time substitutions and they continued to dominate possession only to squander good scoring chances, especially in the closing stages.
Kenya edged Mozambique 2-1 in a Group B Nairobi clash carrying greater significance in the race for a top-three finish and a ticket to the 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola than the World Cup.
Tunisia and Nigeria, who clash later on Saturday near Tunis, have taken an early stranglehold on the mini-league with Kenya and Mozambique fighting to finish third.
The eliminators cover both competitions with the five group winners joining automatic qualifiers South Africa at the World Cup while the teams finishing first, second and third in each pool enter the Nations Cup with Angola.
Julius Owino gave the ‘Harambee Stars’ a half-time advantage, Elias ‘Dominques’ Pelembe levelled early in the second half and McDonald Mariga converted a 73th-minute penalty after being fouled.
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