Minnows Ethiopia eliminated South Africa from the World Cup Africa zone qualifying competition Saturday by fighting back to defeat Central African Republic 2-1 in Congo.
The 'Walias Antelopes' topped Group A with 13 points, two more than 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa, whose 4-1 home win over Botswana in Durban proved futile.
Ethiopia, bottom seeds in a mini-league expected to be dominated by South Africa, join Algeria, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria in two-leg play-offs.
Not qualifying for the final round is a huge personal disappointment... but I am thrilled with the display
Nigeria overcame Malawi 2-0 in Calabar to win Group F with the match settled early in the second half when Victor Moses converted a penalty and Malawian Limbikani Mzava was red carded.
Emmanuel Emenike put the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winners ahead in first-half stoppage time against opponents who never threatened to clip the 'Super Eagles' wings.
Prejuce Nakoulma scored nine minutes after half-time to earn Cup of Nations runners-up Burkina Faso a 1-0 Group E win over Gabon in Ouagadougou and top place.
Long-time leaders Congo Brazzaville needed maximum points in Niger, but could manage only a 2-2 draw after falling behind twice to goals from Mahamane Cisse and Daouda Kamilou.
Fabrice Nguessi levelled four minutes after coming off the bench and Ulrich Kapolongo grabbed the second equaliser for the 'Red Devils' 14 minutes from time.
Another two group winners will emerge later on Saturday with hosts Senegal and Tunisia needing a point each to progress at the expense of Uganda and the Cape Verde respectively.
Cameroon are at home to Libya on Sunday and a win for either country would take them through to the final round with the draw scheduled for September 16 in Cairo.
"Not qualifying for the final round is a huge personal disappointment," admitted South Africa coach Gordon Igesund, "but I am thrilled with the display."
The Boys in limbo
Igesund, a highly successful domestic coach with four Premiership titles, succeeded sacked Pitso Mosimane after draws with Ethiopia and Botswana.
He led a much-changed team to three victories, but they lost 2-1 away to Ethiopia last June in what proved to be the decisive match.
Defeat casts Bafana Bafana (The Boys) into limbo with their next competitive outing only in September 2014 when Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers kick off.
Minyahel Teshome was an ironic 61st-minute match-winner for Ethiopia in a match switched from Bangui to Brazzaville because of post-C.A.R. coup security concerns.
Teshome played in an away win over Botswana when suspended, resulting in Ethiopia being docked three points and having qualification put on hold.
Central African Republic, out of the reckoning after four losses in a row, took the lead when Salif Keita scored midway through the opening half in the Congolese capital.
After both goalkeepers made outstanding late opening-half saves, Salahdin Ahmed levelled three minutes into the second half.
South Africa outplayed Botswana for long periods and deserved to lead by more than 2-0 at half-time with Botswana goalkeeper Kabelo Dambe making several superb saves.
Kermit Erasmus put Bafana Bafana in front on 28 minutes with a far-post header and Dean Furman added a second via a close-range shot in stoppage time.
A powerful Jerome Ramatlhakwane header 18 minutes from time offered Botswana hope only for Bernard Parker to bag a late brace, with one goal coming off a penalty.