Mohamed Salah began his and Egypt's 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign in style on Thursday night as the Liverpool forward scored four goals in the 6-0 victory over Djibouti, while Nigeria were held to a shock home draw by Lesotho.
Salah’s performance ensured an expected win for Egypt in their opening Group A match in Cairo with the striker grabbing the first four goals and increasing his overall tally for Egypt to 53 in 93 appearances as they look for a place at the 2026 finals, having missed out on the Qatar World Cup last year.
Nigeria, without injured Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, were held to a 1-1 draw at a rainy Uyo by the small mountain kingdom of Lesotho, who are 113 places below them in the Fifa rankings.
Defender Motlomelo Mkhwanazi put Lesotho into a shock lead after 56 minutes of the Group C encounter and they kept their advantage for 11 minutes before centre back Semi Ajayi headed home the equaliser from Kelechi Iheanacho’s corner.
But despite pressure on the visitors' goal for the remainder of the game, Nigeria could not fashion a winner and the result will put heavy pressure on manager Jose Peserio, just two months out from their participation at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mozambique claimed the first away victory of the African qualifying campaign, which got underway this week, beating Botswana 3-2 in Group G with Jonathan Muiomo, who plays in the fourth tier of German club football, scoring the winner in only his second appearance.
Algeria are the favourites in that group but their 3-1 home win over Somalia in Algiers was unconvincing with Riyad Mahrez and Amine Gouiri among their star players taken off at halftime as coach Djamel Belmadi looked to freshen up a struggling side.
Gabon fought from a goal down to beat Kenya 2-1 with Denis Bouanga, this year’s top scorer in Major League Soccer, equalising on the hour mark and Guelor Kanga grabbing an 88th-minute winner in Franceville.
Burundi also won in Group F, edging Gambia 3-2 in their match played in Tanzania because of Burundi’s lack of a suitable stadium.
Sudan were forced to host their Group B clash against Togo in Benghazi, Libya because of the civil war in their country and although they went ahead with an early penalty, Togo equalised through Belgian-based Kevin Denkey for a 1-1 draw.
Missed chances were the order of the day in the Group D clash between the Cape Verde Islands and Angola, which ended goalless.
The first two rounds of African qualifiers are played from Wednesday to next Tuesday, and will resume next June.
There are nine groups where the winner qualifies for the 2026 finals in Canada, Mexico and the United States but the four best runners-up get a further chance to qualify through a two-tier playoff system.