Zambia’s bid for a spot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia started off on a sour note following a 2-1 defeat to Nigeria in an opening Group B fixture played at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola Sunday afternoon.
Following a shaky start, the Chipolopolo fell behind in the 32nd minute through an Alex Iwobi volley. The Nigerians doubled their lead ten minutes later via a well-taken goal by Kelechi Iheanacho.
The home side’s improved second half performance saw Collins Mbesuma pull one back in the 70th minute but Nigeria held on to record their first ever win on the Chipolopolo’s home turf.
Both sides threatened in the opening stages, with the visitor’s goalkeeper Carl Ikeme tipping Fwayo Tembo’s cross-shot onto the crossbar while at the other end, Onazi shot just wide when clean through on goal.
However, Nigeria broke the deadlock on 32 minutes when Adrian Chama failed to deal with a long throw-in from Onyinye Ndidi. His poor headed clearance fell at the feet of Arsenal youngster Iwobi, who volleyed into the bottom corner despite the best efforts of Kennedy Mweene.
Rainford Kalaba should have levelled the scores soon after, following a fine cross from the right from Tembo, but shot stopper Ikeme pulled off a superb save to keep out the Zambia forward’s powerful header.
Wedson Nyirenda’s men were made to rule that missed opportunity when three minutes before half-time, Iheanacho doubled Nigeria’s lead. Brown Ideye played the ball to the young Manchester City striker on the edge of the area and he displayed great pace and composure to slice through the Chipolopolo defence before rounding Mweene and slotting into an empty net.
Minutes after halftime, Nyirenda hauled off the hapless Chama and brought on Kondwani Mtonga. The Green Buffaloes defender had had an afternoon to forget as a series of defensive howlers nearly resulted in an embarrassing scoreline in favour of the visitors, if his more accomplished partner Stoppira Sunzu hadn’t repeatedly stepped in to clean up after him.
But soon after, John Obi Mikel nearly made it three with a spectacular volley from the edge of the area, that Mweene did well to tip over his crossbar.
At the other end, Kalaba was a constant menace and he came close to reducing the deficit when he glided past Ndidi on the left hand side and unleashed a shot that the impressive Ikeme blocked from point blank range.
Zambia finally got the goal that their endeavour deserved with 19 minutes left on the clock when Mbesuma took advantage of some terrible defending from Kenneth Omeruo. The defender made a mess of a long ball into the box and the veteran number 9 used his strength to hold off the despairing Omeruo before firing a low shot past Ikeme on the turn.
Wave after wave of Chipolopolo attacks followed as they chased an equaliser but the Super Eagles held on to get their campaign off a winning start.