Morocco scored a crucial away goal in the 75th minute against 10-man DR Congo to earn a 1-1 draw in Kinshasa in the first leg of their 2022 World Cup play-off tie.
Brentford’s Yoane Wissa gave the hosts the lead in the 11th minute following a deflection off the head of Morocco captain Romain Saiss.
In the second half, the Atlas Lions’ Ryan Mmaee – who has a Moroccan mother and Cameroonian father – then put the ball over the bar from the penalty spot, before Tarik Tissoudali spared his blushes with a late equaliser.
DR Congo finished the game with 10 men after Glody Ngonda, who will now be suspended for Tuesday’s second leg in Casablanca. was dismissed after receiving a second yellow card five minutes from time.
The Leopards had taken the lead somewhat against the run of play through Wissa, who cut inside on the left and took a shot from the edge of the area that brushed Saiss’ head before glancing past Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.
Three minutes after the break, Wissa came close to doubling the lead for DR Congo as he drove into the area before curling just wide of the post.
Morocco had a golden opportunity to equalise in the 53rd minute when they were awarded a penalty after the ball struck forward Cedric Bakumbu’s outstretched arm as it came off the head of a Moroccan.
However, Mmaee blazed the ball over the bar following a stuttering run-up for a miss that may be regretted.
A last-ditch lunge by Mmaee’s brother Samy Mmaee thwarted Dieumerci Mbokani at the other end as he looked set to find an empty net at the far post, before Paris St-Germain star Achraf Hakimi headed narrowly wide.
Saiss made amends in the 75th minute when his sliding tackle denied Bakambu, with the striker through one-on-one with Bounou, before the Moroccan captain set up the counter-attack for the equaliser.
The ball was launched forward towards Ayoub El Kaabi, who nodded it into the path of his fellow substitute Tissoudali to crash into the net.
Just four minutes later, DR Congo could have restored their lead only for Bakambu’s header to be well saved by Bounou.
The second leg will be played on Tuesday 29 March with Morocco aiming for a second consecutive World Cup finals appearance, and sixth overall.
Two-time African champions DR Congo have not qualified for the tournament since 1974, when the country was known as Zaire, as they became the first sub-Saharan nation to qualify for a World Cup.