Nigeria hammered African champions Cameroon Friday to virtually seal a 2018 World Cup place, but Ghana drew and South Africa lost to suffer serious qualifying setbacks.
Current and former Chelsea midfielders Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel scored one goal and created another as Nigeria overwhelmed Cameroon 4-0 in southeast city Uyo.
A late strike from Thomas Partey of Atletico Madrid salvaged a 1-1 home draw for lacklustre Ghana against Congo Brazzaville in Kumasi.
Russia-based Nuno Rocha broke the hearts of confident South Africa by scoring twice as Cape Verde came from behind to triumph 2-1 in Praia.
The return of Moses and Mikel to the “Super Eagles” line-up coincided with the best Nigerian performance for years as they crushed the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations winners.
It was a record-equalling winning margin for Nigeria in a World Cup qualifier and the heaviest defeat suffered by Cameroon in an African eliminator.
Nigeria can take an uncatchable lead in the “group of death” if they win in Cameroon this Monday — provided Zambia and Algeria draw in Lusaka Saturday.
Even one Group B point in Yaounde would send Nigeria to Russia, if Zambia and Algeria draw twice.
Nigeria have nine points, Cameroon two and Zambia and Algeria one in a mini-league that, so far, has proven far more one-sided than anticipated.
Odion Ighalo and Mikel scored in the opening half and Moses got the victory-sealing third on 55 minutes after Nigeria had survived intense Cameroon pressure.
Recent Leicester City signing Kelechi Iheanacho nodded the fourth goal to give Nigeria their widest winning margin since trouncing Zimbabwe 5-1 in Abuja 12 years ago.
“After the third goal, we were not a team,” admitted Cameroon coach Hugo Broos. “We did not have power to fight.”
The Belgian said before the match that the “Indomitable Lions” needed to take at least four points off Nigeria to have a realistic chance of topping the table and qualifying.
Ghana, seeking a fourth consecutive World Cup appearance, fell behind midway through the opening half when Congo captain Thievy Bifouma scored from close range.
It took the misfiring “Black Stars” until five minutes from time to level as Partey ran on to a through ball and fired across the goalkeeper and into the net.
Ghana laid siege to the Congolese goalmouth in the closing minutes, but wild shooting, especially from Thomas Agyepong, let them down.
Uganda top Group E with seven points, one more than Egypt after beating them 1-0 in Kampala Thursday. Ghana have two and Congo one.
South Africa made a good start in Cape Verde with Tokelo Rantie proving too quick for his pursuers to give the visitors an early lead.
But Rocha scored twice inside six minutes before half-time, with a deflected shot and from a penalty to turn the tide on the windswept Atlantic Ocean island state.
Rattled South Africa rarely looked like levelling and were reduced to 10 men entering the final quarter when defender Erick Mathoho got a straight red card.
Burkina Faso and South Africa have four points in Group D and Senegal and Cape Verde three ahead of a match between the Senegalese and Burkinabe in Dakar Saturday.