Inaki Williams scored an injury-time winner to give Ghana a 1-0 victory over Madagascar in their first qualifier for the 2026 Fifa World Cup, as Ivory Coast hit nine goals past Seychelles.
Elsewhere on Friday, Mali, Tunisia, Zambia and Cameroon were among the winners - although Cameroon suffered an injury scare when their Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana went off injured 10 minutes from time.
Premier League trio Ibrahim Sangare, Simon Adringa and Hamed Traore all scored for Ivory Coast while Brentford's Bryan Mbeumo and Aston Villa's Bertrand Traore were also on the scoresheet for their national sides.
Africa has a guaranteed nine qualifiers for the 2026 finals in Canada, Mexico and the United States, with all group winners booking a spot at the tournament.
Ghana leave it late
The Black Stars looked like they would be frustrated in Kumasi, with Melvin Adrien inspired in the Malagasy goal, until Athletic Bilbao forward Williams powerfully headed in a cross from Gideon Mensah in the 96th minute.
Adrien, who plays in the fourth tier in France, had made saves to deny Williams, Majeed Ashimeru and West Ham midfielder Mohammed Kudus in the second half.
And the islanders, 48 places below the Black Stars in the world rankings, could even have won it late on as El Hadary Raheriniaina fired over and a header from captain Njiva Rakotoharimalala came back off the left-hand upright.
Ghana, managed by Chris Hughton, played at the 2022 finals in Qatar but are second seeds in Group I behind Mali.
Onana injury scare
Cameroon beat Mauritius 3-0 in their Group D opener with Brentford forward Bryan Mbeumo opening the scoring just before half-time.
Goals from Georges-Kevin N'Koudou and Frank Magrid sealed the win for the Indomitable Lions.
However, there will be some concern over their Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana who went off injured in the 81st minute. Cameroon face Libya on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, Ivory Coast - hosts of the forthcoming Africa Cup of Nations - overwhelmed Seychelles 9-0 in a one-sided Group F encounter in Abidjan.
A Sebastien Haller penalty on 20 minutes started the rout with Nottingham Forest's Ibrahim Sangare on target four minutes later.
There were two goals apiece for Karim Konate and Hamed Traore with Simon Adringa, Seko Fofana and Jean-Philippe Krasso also on the scoresheet.
Mali had to work hard for their 3-1 win over Chad in Group I, securing the win thanks to goals from Kamory Doumbia, Youssoufou Niakate and Ibrahima Sissoko.
Meanwhile, Leicester City striker Patson Daka scored twice as Zambia came from behind to beat Congo 4-2 in their first Group E fixture in Ndola, with former Rangers forward Fashion Sakala also on the scoresheet for the Chipolopolo.
Veteran forward Youssef Msakni was amongst the goals as Tunisia secured a comfortable 4-0 win over Sao Tome e Principe at the start of their Group H campaign.
Seydouba Cisse netted for Guinea in the fifth minute of injury time to give the Syli National a 2-1 'home' win over Uganda.
That Group G victory in Berkane, Morocco, moves the West Africans level on three points with Algeria and Mozambique.
Libya began their Group D campaign with a 1-0 away win against Eswatini, with the game staged in Nelspruit, South Africa, and Comoros beat Central African Republic 4-2 in Moroni in Group I.
In Group H, Malawi opened with a 1-0 win away against Liberia and Burkina Faso came from behind to draw 1-1 with Guinea Bissau in their first Group A fixture, thanks to an equaliser from Aston Villa's Bertrand Traore.
Seventeen African nations have been forced to play their home qualifiers at neutral grounds, either because they lack international-standard stadiums or for safety reasons.
There are three more first round fixtures on Saturday with African champions Senegal at home to South Sudan. Before that, South Africa will host Benin and Niger face Tanzania.
Friday's World Cup 2026 qualifier results
Burkina Faso 1-1 Guinea-Bissau (Group A)
Cameroon 3-0 Mauritius (Group D)
Eswatini 0-1 Libya (Group D)
Zambia 4-2 Congo Brazzaville (Group E)
Guinea 2-1 Uganda (Group G)
Ivory Coast 9-0 Seychelles (Group F)
Liberia 0-1 Malawi (Group H)
Tunisia 4-0 Sao Tome e Principe (Group H)
Comoros 4-2 Central African Republic (Group I)
Ghana 1-0 Madagascar (Group I)
Mali 3-1 Chad (Group I)