After only managing draws in their first Group C matches, two of the Afcon’s heavyweights clashed in Nelspruit as Nigeria and Zambia battled for some crucial Cup of Nations points. Nigeria overcame the early setback of a missed John Obi Mikel penalty with Emmanuel Emenike’s goal on 57 minutes, however, Zambia responded with a penalty of their own – keeper Kennedy Mweene with a stunning spotkick to secure the draw.
The tension was palpable in the early stages, with both sides knowing that whilst defeat would be near-fatal, a draw would only serve to increase the immense pressure ahead of their final group game.
The opening twenty minutes were characterised by a lack of quality, and a propensity for long balls from both sets of defences. With the hard, sandy pitch not conducive to slick, silky passing play, this seemed like the wisest option – but the consequence was a lot of aimless punts that led to nothing. One smart Zambian move carved out a neat chance for Rainford Kalaba, but the Mazembe man blazed the ball over the top.
On 25 minutes, it looked as though Nigeria had found the break-through. Davies Nkausu, under pressure from Ahmed Musa, brought the CSKA Moscow man down, the ref not hesitating to point to the spot. John Obi Mikel stepped up, the midfielder looking to recreate his crucial converted penalty against Liberia in the qualifiers.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, and the Chelsea player’s spot kick was tame and scuffed, and thudded harmlessly off the post.
The game progressed in a cagey, uninspiring fashion, Emmanuel Emenike – Nigeria goalscorer in their first match – unable to contend with the many balls played over the top of the Chipolopolo defence.
Things improved in the second period, Nigeria looking brighter and nearly taking the lead with Ahmed Musa breaking away down the right and sending a cross-cum-shot across the goal which Emmanuel Emenike failed to touch into the net.
Ten minutes into the second half, the young striker finally made his mark-a fine finishing pushing the Super Eagles ahead. After pick-pocketing Lungu in midfield, John Obi Mikel made amends for his earlier miss and played Emenike in through the middle, the striker made no mistake, and fired Nigeria ahead with a clever finish.
Zambia sought far and wide for the inspiration that would see them claim some points, it eventually came from an unlikely source. The referee, seeing something that few others did, gave a penalty for the Chipolopolo after minimum contact on Mayuka by Onazi. Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene stepped up, and looking as calm as can be, he dispatched a beautiful spot-kick past Vincent Enyeama.
Keen to avoid a second successive collapse, Nigeria knocked at the door, but neither team managed to find the net again in the game’s dying embers, and the pair had to settle for the draw.
The result leaves the holders in grave danger of elimination, they will need to beat the Stallions next Tuesday and hope that results go their way. Nigeria, on the other hand, can look to the future – as progression to the knockout stages edges closer.
EAGLES’ RATINGS AGAINST ZAMBIA
Vincent Enyeama: Retained his place between the post having done enough to retain coach Stephen Keshi’s confidence. The Maccabi Tel Aviv goalkeeper was composed and made a couple of crucial saves. He simply cannot be blamed for not stopping the penalty even though if he had done, he would have become the hero. Rating 6.
Elderson Echiejile: Now the Eagles first choice at the right wing-back, the Sporting Braga defender had his hands full trying to contain the fast and very fit Zambian attackers but he held his own. He did well joining the attack on some occasions too. Rating 6.
Ogenyi Onazi: The Lazio midfielder got a surprise starting shirt this time playing from the right wing-back position in place of suspended Ambrose Efe. He did his best in the unfamiliar position but was regularly exposed by the fast Zambian attackers who operated mostly from his position. He did well joining the attack but his recovery rate was slow, putting the defence line under pressure.
One of such errors led to the penalty which resulted in the Zambian’s equaliser in the 85th minute. Rating 5.
Godfrey Oboabona: The Sunshine defender whose solid performance in the first game was marred only by failing to clear the ball that resulted into Burkina Faso equaliser, retains his shirt and struck good understanding with new partner, Kenneth Omeruo in Yobo’s absence. Oboabona justified Keshi’s faith in him as the only home-based Eagles and stood his ground despite the barrage of ceaseless attack by the Zambians. Rating 6.
Kenneth Omeruo: Clearly a revelation at the tournament. He started from the bench against Burkina Faso where he came in for red-carded Ambrose Efe, Omeruo this term got Keshi’s nod to start in the centre defence replacing injured skipper, Joseph Yobo.
And despite playing alongside Oboabona for the first time in such a crucial game, he struck up good understanding with his centre pair. Did well to contain the pressure from the desperate Zambian attackers. Rating 6.
Nosa Igiebor: Retained his position in the midfield alongside Mikel where he had above average rating. This term, the Real Betis midfielder had to make way in the 75th minute just doing enough work in the midfield against the Zambians. He has definitely not done enough to stamp his authority in the Eagles midfield as he is expected. Rating 5.
Fengor Ogude: Started again in the midfield alongside Mikel and Igiebor and did well in covering for the Eagles defenceline against the tireless Zambians. His physical presence helped curtail most of the attack launched by the Chipolopolos and helped free Mikel to join the attack often. Rating 6.
Obi Mikel: Man of the Match the last term against Burkina Faso, Mikel picked off from where he left off, dictating play in the Eagles midfield. His performance this term was marred by his failed attempt to convert a penalty kick in the 23rd minute after Musa was brought down in the box.
But the Chelsea midfielder made up for that error by setting up Emenike for Nigeria’s goal in the 57th minute. Rating 7.
Ahmed Musa: Had an average outing against Burkina Faso in the first game. Musa still retained his starting shirt against the Chipolopolo but was again unable to stamp his authority in the game as expected.
Poor passes and crosses were his bane but he still used his speeed to give the Zambians sleepless nights. Rating 6.
Victor Moses: Having reportedly shaken off the hamstring injury that prevented him from featuring in the first game, the Chelsea winger was handed a starter’s shirt ahead Brown Ideye and did not disappoint. Though he took some time adjust to the game, thereafter, he was able bring his influence to bear positively in the game. He was a handful for the Zambian defenders who heaved a sigh of relief when he was eventually substituted. Rating 7.
Emmanuel Emenike: The power-playing Spartak Moscow striker has no doubt become the Eagles first choice in the attack. And despite playing as the lone striker against Zambia, Emenike was up to it and did well to convert the Eagles only goal in the 57th minute. A striker with a big heart. Rating 8.
Obiora Nwankwo: The Lazio midfielder came in for Igiebor in the 75th minute and did his best trying to mark out the tireless Zambians.
Ikechukwu Uche: Came in for Emenike in the 83rd minute and at a time when it was too late to make any impact. His late introduction will not be uncconnected to his dismal misses against Burkina Faso in the first game.
LBrown Ideye: Lost his starting shirt to Moses as Keshi opted for a lone striker.