CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Ivory Coast felt Yaya Toure's absence as it began its African title defense with a 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone in neutral Nigeria on Sunday.
Without captain Toure and other star players, the Ivorians were uninspiring in their first qualifier for the 2017 African Cup of Nations, and their first game under new coach Michel Dussuyer.
Toure was missing after asking for time off from the national team while he considers his international future. Striker Wilfried Bony and midfielders Cheick Tiote and Max Gradel also didn't play in the Group I game.
Also, top-ranked African team Algeria won 3-1 in Lesotho to lead Group J with two wins from two.
Bassem Morsi scored a hat trick for Egypt in a 5-1 hammering of Chad. That put Egypt ahead of Nigeria in Group G and kept the record seven-time African champion on course to qualify for the Cup of Nations for the first time since its last title in 2010.
Ivory Coast was starting its qualifying campaign later than other teams after being drawn in the same group as 2017 tournament host Gabon, and playing the Gabonese in a non-competitive match in the first round in June.
Gervinho lined up against Sierra Leone in Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria, with the Sierra Leoneans still not able to play at home because of Ebola. The forward couldn't help produce a victory for the Ivorians, though, and the defending African champion trails group leader Sudan.
The 13 group winners and the two best second-placed teams will qualify for the tournament.
There could be a long-awaited return for Africa's most decorated team. Morsi scored the first two goals and the last for Egypt in N'Djamena, and Mohamed Salah and Mahmoud Kahraba also netted as the Egyptians followed up a 3-0 win over Tanzania with another impressive showing.
Cameroon also has two wins from two in Group M but neither of them were convincing. The Cameroonians edged Gambia 1-0 on Sunday through Vincent Aboubakar's 65th-minute strike. Aboubakar was also the savior in a last-minute 1-0 win over Mauritania in the first round.
Angola and Mali top groups B and C respectively after Sunday's qualifiers, while Swaziland drew 2-2 at home with Malawi to follow up its stunning away win in Guinea in the first round. The Swazis lead Group L ahead of Zimbabwe on goals scored and now have maybe their best chance ever of qualifying for a major tournament for the first time.