Egypt and Ethiopia went through to the final World Cup playoffs on Sunday and Libya are almost there, creating a group of unlikely contenders for Africa's five places at the world showpiece.
Egypt and Libya have defied major political unrest to challenge for a spot in Brazil next year. Ethiopia followed on from their first appearance at the African Cup in 30 years by reaching the decisive World Cup playoff games as one of 10 group winners, eliminating 2010 host South Africa on the way.
Libya and Ethiopia have never been to the World Cup, while Egypt haven't qualified for more than 20 years.
There are many talented players here in Ethiopia. This will be a turning
point for Ethiopian football
Tunisia and Algeria also made the playoffs, with North African football fighting back after one of their worst periods culminated with the region having no teams in the last eight of this year's African Cup.
The continent's top-ranked team, Ivory Coast, were among the first five countries into the playoff ties in October and November.
The remaining five will be decided in the final group games in early September.
A founding member of the African Cup of Nations - and African champion back in 1962 - Ethiopia reached a long-awaited high with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over South Africa in front of 25,000 roaring fans in Addis Ababa.
Bernard Parker's 70th minute own goal for the South Africans sealed Ethiopia's place as Group A winner, sending the supporters inside the National Stadium wild. Thousands who didn't get tickets crowded outside the walls of the stadium in the capital within minutes of full time, waving flags, bouncing up and down, and hailing Ethiopia's resurgence.
"There are many talented players here in Ethiopia. This will be a turning point for Ethiopian football," coach Sewnet Bishaw said, adding "our crowd'' made the victory possible.
Parker misdirected a header from a set-piece and it rocketed into the top right corner of his own net for Ethiopia's winner. Playing for its survival, South Africa had led through Parker's left-footed volley in the 33rd minute, but Getaneh Kebede equalized in the 42nd in a game fizzing with passion from the home fans.
Ranked 106th by FIFA, Ethiopia is now a two-legged tie away from being among the top 32 teams in the world in Brazil.
Ivory Coast earlier won 4-2 in Tanzania after being 1-0 and 2-1 down, helped by a double from Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure. Five goals came in the first half before Africa's top team prevailed and took the playoff place as Group C winner.
Egypt, under former U.S. coach Bob Bradley, are also headed for the playoffs and have a chance at a first World Cup appearance since 1990 after winning 1-0 in Mozambique to dominate Group G with a perfect five wins from five so far.
Mohamed Salah scored the 40th-minute winner in Maputo, adding to the hat trick he scored in Egypt's win over Zimbabwe in the last round.
| Bob Bradley has led Egypt to five wins from five [AP]
A place at Brazil 2014 would be a remarkable turnaround for Bradley's team after they failed to qualify for the 2012 and 2013 African Cups amid violence and disorder back home.
Tunisia secured a 1-1 draw and a point in Equatorial Guinea with Oussama Darragi's second-half penalty to win Group B. Algeria won 1-0 in Rwanda and claimed Group H when Mali drew 2-2 with Benin in the weekend's last game.
A 2010 World Cup quarterfinalist, Ghana won 2-0 in Lesotho after goals by Christian Atsu and Asamoah Gyan to go top of Group D by a point from former African champion Zambia. That will go down to a tense decider when Ghana hosts Zambia in the final round of group games.
Cameroon could only draw 0-0 in Congo, leaving Libya two points clear in Group I and needing a draw in Cameroon when they meet in the group's final round to be in the last 10.
Best placed to take the remaining three spots in the playoffs are African champion Nigeria, Senegal and surprise package Republic of Congo. Senegal beat Liberia 2-0 after a double from Papiss Cisse to lead Uganda by a point in Group J following five of six games.