Ivory Coast dropped out of the qualifying places for the continental championship after two of six games in the final group stage.
Ivory Coast threw away an early lead and lost 2-1 to Ethiopia in African Cup of Nations qualifying on Tuesday.
The two-time African champion took the lead in the fourth minute with a goal by captain Serge Aurier but conceded twice in 10 minutes in the first half in an early blow to its hopes of making the 2021 African Cup in Cameroon.
Goals by Ethiopia’s Surafel Dagnachew and Shimelis Bekele dropped Ivory Coast out of the qualifying places after two of six games in the final group stage.
Madagascar, which made their Cup of Nations debut at this year’s tournament, lead Group K ahead of Ethiopia after a 6-2 win in Niger.
Zimbabwe won 2-1 in Zambia thanks to a brace by midfielder Khama Billiat. Zambia, another former champion, have lost two out of two to sit bottom of Group H.
Ivory Coast are not the only big team struggling, with seven-time champion Egypt winless after two games and clearly missing injured forward Mohamed Salah. Salah sat out both of Egypt’s first two qualifying games, last Thursday and on Monday, with an ankle injury.
Egypt are the most successful team in African Cup history but began this campaign by drawing 1-1 at home to Kenya and then being held 0-0 away to Comoros, the Indian Ocean island which has never qualified for the continental championship.
Those were the first two competitive games under new coach Hossam el Badry, who attempted to reassure Egyptians by guaranteeing the team would get back on track when the teams continue qualifying next August.
“Egypt will be among the teams to qualify for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in the end,” Badry said.
Egypt are still recovering from their failure at this year’s African Cup, which they hosted. Hopes were sky-high but Salah and Egypt crashed out in the round of 16.
Comoros could become one of the stories of qualifying after winning in Togo and matching Egypt to sit top of Group G. The Comoros team are drawn from a nation of less than a million people. Cairo alone has more than 10 times as many people as the entire country of Comoros and is about three times the size.
Morocco overcame their own shaky start to the qualifiers — a 0-0 home draw with Mauritania last week — to beat Burundi 3-0 away on Tuesday. Noussair Mazraoui and Youssef En Nesyri scored in the first half and Achraf Hakimi sealed victory seven minutes from time. Morocco lead Group E.
These qualifiers will decide the 23 teams to join host Cameroon at the African Cup.