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FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers: Ziyech strikes as Morocco wins while Ghana, South Africa crash

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Hakim Ziyech scored from a 40-metre drive as shock 2022 World Cup semifinalists Morocco beat 10-man Tanzania 2-0 on Tuesday when it began its campaign to qualify for the next finals.

The Galatasaray winger struck 28 minutes into the 2026 qualifier in Dar es Salaam and Tanzania fell further behind when Lusajo Mwaikenda conceded an own goal eight minutes after half-time.

Tanzania, which is ranked 108 places below Morocco, was reduced to 10 men midway through the second half after Novatus Miroshi was red-carded following a second caution.

While Morocco made a winning start in Group E after receiving a first-round bye last week when Eritrea withdrew, Zambia suffered a surprise 2-1 loss to Niger in the same section.

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It was the first competitive defeat for former Chelsea and West Ham United manager Avram Grant since taking charge of Zambia last December.

A superb solo goal by Myziane Maolida just before half-time gave Comoros a 1-0 victory over Ghana in Moroni and first place in Group I with six points, two more than top seeds Mali.

Maolida took possession close to the centre circle, dribbled past several opponents and beat goalkeeper Richard Ofori with a shot from inside the box.

Comoros also shocked Ghana at the last Africa Cup of Nations by winning 3-2 — a result that condemned the Black Stars to a first-round exit.

Losing will intensify the pressure on Ghana coach and former Premier League manager Chris Hughton after three defeats in four matches.

Rwanda adapted much better than South Africa to a rain-drenched artificial pitch in Group C in Butare and won 2-0 to end a 12-match unbeaten run by the visitors.

Sloppy defending by Nkosinathi Sibisi and Khuliso Mudau gifted goals to Innocent Nshuti and Gilbert Mugisha within 28 minutes as the home side used a route-one approach to good effect.

South Africa, however, persisted with short passes that often went astray and it seldom threatened to get back into the game.

Shock frontrunners

Rwanda is the shock frontrunner with four points, South Africa has three and top seed Nigeria is among three countries with two.

Cameroon drew in Libya without goalkeeper Andre Onana, who has returned to Manchester United after suffering an unspecified injury in a victory over Mauritius last Friday.

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Olivier Ntcham converted a penalty for the Indomitable Lions, whose eight World Cup appearances is an African record, and Abdulmunem Aleiyan levelled as half-time approached in Benghazi.

Cameroon tops Group D on goal difference from Cape Verde and Libya with each country collecting four points from two outings.

Senegal regained first place in Group B, but only on goal difference from Sudan after being held 0-0 by Togo in Lome. Both have four points, one more than the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Tunisia was another nation to return to the top as veteran Youssef Msakni scored off a late penalty to snatch a 1-0 Group H win over Malawi in Lilongwe.

The six-time World Cup qualifiers have six points, the same number as Equatorial Guinea, who are expected to pose the biggest threat to the Tunisians.

Burkina Faso rose to second in Group A behind Egypt after a 3-0 win over Ethiopia with Aston Villa forward Bertrand Traore coming off the bench to score the second goal from a penalty.

Serhou Guirassy, who has scored 15 goals for Bundesliga outfit Stuttgart this season, failed to find the net for Guinea, who suffered a shock 1-0 Group G loss to Botswana in Francistown.

The next two rounds of qualifying are scheduled for June 2024, followed by six more the following year.

The nine group winners are guaranteed places at the 2026 finals, which will feature a record 48 teams in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

There is the possibility of a 10th African qualifier as the four best-ranked runners-up enter play-offs and the winners go to an inter-continental tournament with two places up for grabs.

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