Didier Drogba hit a fifth-minute penalty to send Ivory Coast to a 3-1 win over Senegal in the first leg of their World Cup playoff on Saturday, putting Africa's top-ranked team and its big-name players within reach of a berth in Brazil next year.
Also, Burkina Faso edged Algeria 3-2 with Aristide Bance's late spot-kick as the German-based forward made up for an earlier missed penalty, although the Algerians will be boosted by their two away goals ahead of the second leg next month.
Africa's two-year World Cup qualifying competition has come down to 10 teams in five playoffs for the continent's five places at the showpiece tournament. Ethiopia hosts African champion Nigeria and Tunisia plays Cameroon on Sunday. Egypt is away at 2010 World Cup quarterfinalist Ghana on Tuesday in the last of the first legs.
Drogba's early goal began Ivory Coast's strong showing against its West African rival in Abidjan, but some of the gloss was taken off the Ivorians' performance at the very end by striker Papiss Cisse's goal for the Senegalese in the sixth minute of injury time at Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium.
After Drogba's opener, Lamine Sane scored an own goal in the 14th and Salomon Kalou made it 3-0 early in the second half.
Cisse struck in a long period of time added on by the referee to give Senegal a glimmer of hope in the second leg on Nov. 16 in neutral Morocco. The teams will meet in the crucial second leg in Casablanca because Senegal's main stadium in Dakar is under a ban because of a fan riot when the teams met in an African Cup qualifier a year ago.
In Ouagadougou, Bance clinched a narrow victory for the Burkinabes, who have never been to the World Cup, after Algeria twice came back to equalize away from home. Burkina Faso, a surprise African Cup finalist this year, also recovered from the early loss to injury of important defender Bakary Kone and Bance's initial miss from the spot in the 45th to take a slim advantage to Blida on Nov. 19.
Algeria is looking for back-to-back World Cup appearances, however, and is only a goal behind.
''If we win by 1-0 it will be enough,'' Algeria assistant coach Nourredine Kourichi said. ''The second leg will be difficult for Burkina and for us as well but we are hopeful. We are optimistic.''
Jonathan Pitroipa's header pushed Burkina Faso in front in first-half injury time only for Sofiane Feghouli to score Algeria's first equalizer in the 50th. Djakaridja Kone made it 2-1 in the 65th and Carl Medjani put Algeria level for a second time four minutes later before Bance's late winner from a penalty for handball.
The Burkina Faso supporters packed into the 40,000-seat 4 August Stadium as early as 10 a.m. local time for a 4 p.m. kickoff, showing some of the fervor felt by the nation of around 15 million people that has never qualified for a World Cup but showed great progress under Belgian coach Paul Put to reach the African Cup final this year.
Ethiopian fans are expected to be as excited in Addis Ababa on Sunday when they host the continental champion Nigeria and hope for a strong first-leg showing to boost their hopes of also playing at their first World Cup.