Nigeria stumble to second consecutive draw against Zimbabwe

November 20, 2023

BUTARE, Rwanda (AP):

Kelechi Iheanacho equalised to salvage a 1-1 draw for Nigeria against Zimbabwe yesterday as both teams opened their World Cup-qualifying campaigns with two consecutive draws.

Zimbabwe, hosting games in Rwanda because of a lack of suitable stadiums at home, took the lead in the 26th minute through a free kick by forward Walter Musona, who hammered the ball into the top corner from 30 yards out.

Zimbabwe played the better football in the first half and appeared unfazed by the opposition's pedigree, knocking the ball around confidently and defending solidly when out of possession.

Nigeria came into the game in the second half, though Zimbabwe also had chances to win.

Leicester City's forward, Iheanacho, a second-half substitute for the Super Eagles, scored the equaliser in the 67th with a clinical finish inside the box. Captain Moses Simon set him up.

In their opening matches, Zimbabwe drew 0-0 away to Rwanda on Wednesday, while Nigeria were surprisingly held to a 1-1 at-home draw by Lesotho on Thursday.

The result leaves both on two points in Group C, one behind leader South Africa, who have a game in hand.

The slow start to their qualifying campaign for the 2026 World Cup should concern Nigeria's coach Jose Peseiro, who was criticised following the draw with Lesotho in Uyo.

Nigeria have been to six World Cups but failed to qualify for the last edition in Qatar in 2022.

The 63-year-old Portuguese will likely come under pressure again, despite Nigeria's chances of qualifying this time, being boosted by the tournament's expansion from 32 to 48 teams, starting in 2026 in the United States of America, Mexico and Canada.

Nine teams from Africa will qualify directly, and a 10th could make the field through an inter-continental play-off.

In other matches, Mozambique were beaten 2-0 at home by Algeria, while Burundi lost 2-1 to Gabon in Tanzania.

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