It rarely happens that Nigeria wins an away tournament qualifying match — but that was exactly what happened when the Super Eagles faced the Chipolopolo of Zambia in Ndola on Sunday.
In the opener of their Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier, Gernot Rohr’s side triumphed by 2-1, courtesy of goals from Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho.
However, they were made to work had for the victory, as Zambia dominated play in the second half in search of a home win.
Nigeria went ahead in the 33rd minute when the Zambian defence failed to deal with a Nigerian throw-in. The advantage fell kindly to Iwobi, who still had the onerous task of quickly and deftly readjusting his body positioning to volley home from the edge of the box.
Ten minutes later, it was 2-0 to the Super Eagles. Some neat interplay in the Eagles attack sent Iheanacho through on goal, and the Manchester City striker duly dribbled goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene. The ball looked destined to roll out for a goal kick but Iheanacho retrieved it and slotted home from an acute angle, despite the best efforts of two Zambian defenders.
Zambia returned from the half-time break a far improved side, and it was only a matter of time before Collins Mbesuma pulled one back for the hosts in the 71st minute — Kenneth Omeruo the culprit for fumbling what seemed an innocuous cross, allowing the Mpumalanga Black Aces of South Africa striker steal the ball and ram home a shot beyond the reach and sight of the outstanding Carl Ikeme.
It had been an all-Zambia affair for those 26 minutes of the second half, and the scoreline could as well have been 4-2 in favour of Zambia were it not for Ikeme’s many reflex saves, some even pointblank.
Rohr responded by bringing on Genk of Belgium’s Anderson Esiti in place of Brown Ideye. Nigeria subsequently took control of the match and despite the Chipolopolo steal managing to open up the Eagles defence, the home side never really looked like equalising.
The result sees Nigeria move top of the group — at least until Algeria and Camerooon, the other sides in the group, face off in Algiers later on Sunday night.
The Super Eagles are next in action on November 7, when they face Algeria, Africa’s highest-ranked side, in Port Harcourt, Rivers state.