Johannesburg (AFP) – Riyad Mahrez celebrated being included on Friday among 30 Ballon d’Or nominees by scoring twice as he captained Algeria to a 6-1 thrashing of Niger in World Cup qualifying.
The result in Blida kept the reigning African champions top of Group A, ahead of Burkina Faso on goal difference in a two-team fight to finish first and qualify for the final elimination round next March.
It also stretched Algeria’s undefeated run to 30 matches.
Both Mahrez goals came from set pieces as he converted a free-kick to break the deadlock on 27 minutes and give the Desert Foxes a 1-0 half-time advantage.
After Sofiane Feghouli doubled the lead two minutes into the second half, Manchester City winger and former African Footballer of the Year Mahrez scored from a penalty on the hour for a 3-1 lead.
Nigerien Zakariya Souleymane conceded an own-goal and Islam Slimani took his World Cup qualifying goal tally to six with a brace.
Mahrez and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah are the two Africans vying for the Ballon d’Or, which honours the best footballer in the world after a poll among national team coaches and captains and journalists.
Algeria have hosted Niger — who are 89 places below the north Africans in the latest FIFA world rankings — three times in World Cup qualifying and scored 16 goals while conceding just one.
The Blida blitz stretched to 30 matches the unbeaten run of Algeria, who last lost in October 2018 away to Benin in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
Abdoul Tapsoba scored twice for Burkina Faso in a 4-0 victory over Djibouti, who hosted the match in Moroccan city Marrakech because they do not have an international-standard stadium.
Egypt replaced Libya as Group F leaders by winning the top-of-the-table clash 1-0 in Alexandria through a superb goal from debutant Omar Marmoush.
The VfB Stuttgart forward unleashed an unstoppable shot past goalkeeper Muhammad Nashnoush from the edge of the box in the 49th minute.
– Queiroz wins again –
Success made it two victories from two matches for Mozambique-born former Real Madrid manager and Manchester United assistant Carlos Queiroz, a recent replacement for sacked Egypt coach Hossam el Badry.
When the draw to divide 40 African hopefuls into 10 sections was made, Group D stood out as the most difficult with two top-10 ranked teams, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, pitted against each other.
Cameroon hold the African record for World Cup appearances with seven and the Ivory Coast were at the global showcase three consecutive times before missing out on the 2018 finals in Russia.
A weakened Ivorian side scored two late goals to complete a 3-0 win over Malawi, whose lack of an international-standard stadium forced them to play in Soweto near Johannesburg.
Victory lifted the Ivory Coast to seven points at the halfway stage, one more than Cameroon, whose veteran forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting bagged a brace in a 3-1 win over Mozambique in Douala.
Ivory Coast rested four Premier League players — Eric Bailly, Maxwel Cornet, Nicolas Pepe and Wilfried Zaha — ahead of the return match against Malawi on Monday.
That left Wolves defender Willy Boly as the only England-based player in the starting line-up, and the absence of the ‘big names’ was hardly noticed as they quickly established control.
Max Gradel opened the scoring on 35 minutes and second-half dominance was belatedly translated into goals when Ibrahim Sangare and Jeremie Boga netted.
Veteran Bayern Munich forward Choupo-Moting scored in each half and Karl Toko Ekambi added a third goal in Atlantic port city Douala before Geny Catamo notched a late consolation.
A miserable night for the Mozambican Mambas (Snakes) was completed two minutes from time when Danilo Muze was shown a straight red card.
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