Ethiopia's forward Getaneh Kebede, pictured in action in Rustenburg on January 29, 2013
Ethiopia won 2-1 in Botswana Saturday to stay two points ahead of fancied South Africa in a thrilling Group A race for World Cup survival.
A couple of first-half goals for leading scorers Getaneh Kebede and Saladin Ahmed put bottom seeds Ethiopia in control before Tebogo Sembowa pulled one back in Lobatse.
South Africa triumphed 3-0 over Central African Republic in a clash of injury depleted sides in Yaounde, with the match moved to Cameroon because Bangui was considered unsafe.
Bernard Parker and Siphiwe Tshabalala scored during the opening half on an artificial surface and leading South African 2012-2013 league scorer Katlego Mashego added a third during stoppage time.
But Bafana Bafana (The Boys) celebrations of a rare competitive win on the road were diluted by the Ethiopian result, and the sides meet on June 16 in a potential group decider in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia have 10 points and South Africa eight with two rounds left, and a win for the home side next weekend would give them an unassailable advantage over the three-time World Cup qualifiers.
The 10 African mini-league winners will be paired off for the final stage during October and November with the winners of the five home-and-away ties qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
While South Africa are finding the going tough in a group they were expected to dominate, fellow top seeds Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Congo Brazzaville moved closer to topping other pools.
Fakhreddine Ben Youssef equalised in the final minute as Tunisia snatched a 2-2 draw away to Sierra Leone and robbed new home coach Johnny McKinstry of a dream debut.
McKinstry, a 27-year-old from Northern Ireland, was named coach when Swede Lars Mattsson quit after a narrow loss in Tunisia three months ago, claiming officials repeatedly interfered with his team selections.
Plucked from academy work in Freetown having never coached a club or national team, McKinstry watched the Leone Stars lead in each half through Kaiansu Kamara and Alhassan Kamara.
But four-time World Cup qualifiers Tunisia levelled through Oussama Darragi, from a penalty, and Ben Youssef to retain a five-point Group B advantage over Sierra Leone.
Ivory Coast got the second spell of Peter Johnson as Gambia coach off to a miserable start by winning 3-0 in Bakau through goals from Lacina Traore, Wilfried Bony and reigning African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure.
The Ivorian 'Elephants' moved four points ahead of Tanzania, who play Morocco in Marrakech late Saturday, in Group C ahead of a Dar es Salaam showdown between the sides next weekend.
Newcastle United striker Papiss Cisse put Senegal ahead during the opening half against Angola in Luanda and Afonso Guilherme forced a 1-1 draw via an early second-half equaliser.
Senegal top Group J with six points, Uganda have five after an early Tonny Mawejje goal secured a 1-0 home victory over Liberia, who are on four points with Angola.
Congo forced a 0-0 draw with Gabon in Franceville to stay six points ahead in Group E and 2013 Africa Cup of Nations runners-up Burkina Faso must win in Niger Sunday to have a realistic chance of overtaking the 'Red Devils'.
Zambia regained the Group D lead by one point from Ghana after whipping lowly Lesotho 4-0 in Ndola with Jacob Mulenga bagging a brace and captain Christopher Katongo and Collins Mbesuma one each.
However, wins for Ghana away to Lesotho next weekend and at home to Zambia during September will take them through at the expense of the shock 2012 Cup of Nations champions.