Cairo - Defending champions Egypt are on the brink of elimination from the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations while Ivory Coast secured a place at the finals on Sunday with two games to spare.
The record seven-time title holders could only draw 0-0 with South Africa in a tense Cairo qualifier that produced few clearcut scoring chances for teams ranked third and fourth respectively on the continent.
Ivory Coast triumphed 6-2 in Benin with Didier Drogba and Gervais 'Gervinho' Kouassi bagging a brace each to take an unassailable eight-point lead in their section.
There was plenty for home supporters to celebrate in other games with Guinea and Tunisia winning decisively and Angola, Central African Republic and Liberia narrowly while Comoros Islands held Libya.
Although South Africa spent more time defending than attacking at a subdued Military Academy Stadium, they created the best chances but Katlego Mphela and Tlou Segolela failed to score when one-on-one with goalkeeper Essam al-Hadary.
Veteran Al-Hadary became so frustrated with the failure of his team-mates to translate plentiful possession into goals that he ventured up the field with the ball late in the second half.
However, he was dispossessed and relieved to see a long range lob from rival captain Siphiwe Tshabalala - standing in for injured midfielder Steven Pienaar - finish well off target.
Defender Ahmed al-Mohamady came close twice for Egypt in the opening half, heading a cross over from point-blank range and having a shot from well inside the penalty area held at the second attempt by impressive Itumeleng Khune.
South Africa lead Group G with eight points followed by Niger (six), Sierra Leone (five) and Egypt (two) with two rounds to be played in September and October.
Ivory Coast could hardly have dreamt they would score six in Cotonou having won only 2-1 when the countries met in Accra three months ago, but a great start saw them gallop into a three-goal led with 31 minutes gone.
Stephane Sessegnon struck twice to leave the game to offer Benin hope only for Drogba and Gervinho to score a second goal each before Wilfried Bony completed the rout four minutes from full-time.
Issam Jemaa scored a hat-trick as Tunisia thumped 10-man Chad 5-0 in Group K and the other goals in Sousse came from Aymen Abdennour and Oussama Darragi against opponents who had Didier Mbayi sent off just before half-time.
Tunisia shade Malawi on goal difference in the battle for second place behind pool winners Botswana in the only mini-league where two teams qualify automatically because there are five competitors.
Guinea trounced Madagascar 4-1 in Conakry to go three points clear of Nigeria in Group B while Angola kept alive their slender Group J hopes with a 1-0 victory over Kenya in Luanda thanks to a 'Manucho' goal.
Liberia edged Group A leaders Cape Verde Islands 1-0 for their first win of the competition and the Central African Republic joined Morocco at the summit of Group D with a 2-1 win against Tanzania in Bangui.
Comoros Islands, the youngest member of the African football family, ended a long run of competitive losses by holding Libya 1-1 in Mitsamiouli which left the North Africans a point behind Group C table toppers Zambia.
The 11 group winners qualify for the finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea next January and February plus the Group K runners-up and the best two second place finishers from the other 10 mini-leagues.