Late winner keeps Tunisia on course for World Cup finals

<a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Tunisia;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Tunisia</a> midfielder Hamza Rafia (L) and Equatorial Guinea defender Saul Basilo fight for the ball during a 2026 World Cup qualifier in Rades. (Fethi Belaid)

Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane converted an 82nd-minute penalty to keep Tunisia on track for a third straight World Cup appearance with a 1-0 win over Equatorial Guinea in Rades on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old Hungary-based midfielder sent goalkeeper Jesus Owono the wrong way with his spot kick as Tunisia maintained a perfect Group H record after three matches.

Tunisia lead Namibia by two points ahead of a top-of-the-table clash between the frontrunners in South Africa on Sunday. Equatorial Guinea are last with no points.

The nine African group winners qualify for the 2026 finals in Canada, Mexico and the USA and the four highest-ranked runners-up compete for one place in inter-continental play-offs.

A notable absentee from the Equatorial Guinea line-up was star forward Emilio Nsue, the five-goal leading scorer at the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations in the Ivory Coast.

He was banned by FIFA in 2013 from representing his adopted country after failing to comply with the procedures for changing allegiance having played for his native Spain at under-age levels.

Nsue ignored the ban, was capped 43 times by Equatorial Guinea, and scored the goals that won 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Namibia and Liberia last November.

Those 1-0 victories have changed to 3-0 losses, Nsue has been suspended from international football for six months and the Equatoguinean football federation fined $164,000 (€150,000).

Namibia impressed early on against Liberia in Soweto on the outskirts of Johannesburg and debutant Tjipe Karuuombe latched on to a lofted pass and scored after just eight minutes.

But persistent second-half pressure from the Liberians paid off on 65 minutes when Terry Sackor pushed the ball into the net at the far post after the Namibians failed to clear a long throw.

- 'Struggled' -

Namibia coach Collin Benjamin blamed inexperience for the failure to win, adding that "we struggled in the air against long throws".

"We cannot hope to qualify for the World Cup when forced to play all 10 qualifying  matches on the road."

Namibia are among 17 countries having to stage matchday three and four home fixtures at neutral grounds because of sub-standard venues, stadium renovations or security concerns.

The lack of an international-standard stadium in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, has forced the national team to play home matches in neighbouring South Africa since 2021.

"We altered our tactics at half-time and it made a difference," said Romania-born Liberia coach Mario Marinica.

"Taking 36 hours to get here did not help, nor did the limited time for training. We are outsiders in this group, but that won't stop us trying to win every match."

Elsewhere, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic recorded their first wins while Togo drew for the third time.

Augustus Kargbo scored the early second-half goal that earned Sierra Leone a 2-1 win over bottom team Djibouti in a clash of Group A minnows in the Moroccan port city of El Jadida.

French lower-league forward Venuste Baboula struck in the first half in Oujda as the third-placed Central Africans edged Chad 1-0 in Group I in another qualifier hosted by Morocco.

Khaled Narey gave fourth-placed Togo a 61st-minute lead over South Sudan in Group B, but South Sudan levelled through a Roger Aholou own-goal soon after to force a 1-1 draw in Lome.