Iwobi, Iheanacho score as Nigeria triumph, Congo win
Nigeria opened their 2018 World Cup group-phase qualifying campaign with a 2-1 victory in Zambia yesterday thanks to goals from English Premier League duo Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho The 20-year-old strikers scored in the opening half before a capacity 40,000 crowd at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in central city Ndola that included President Edgar Lungu.
Zambia dominated the second half and veteran striker Collins Mbesuma set up a tense finish by halving the deficit 19 minutes from time. But an equaliser eluded the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets), who are seeking a first World Cup appearance while the Super Eagles have already been to the finals five times.
The teams are in Group B-labelled the ‘group of death’ as it contains three 2014 World Cup qualifiers in Algeria, Cameroon and Nigeria. Algeria host record seventime African qualifiers Cameroon later in Blida, a venue where the North African Desert Foxes are virtually invincible. Iwobi of Arsenal pounced on a weak headed clearance to slam the ball past goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene from close range on 32 minutes. Neat one-touch passing set Iheanacho of Manchester City free 10 minutes later and he rounded Mweene before calmly pushing the ball into the net. A blunder from Nigeria defender Kenneth Omeruo allowed Mbesuma to score by firing past impressive goalkeeper Carl Ikeme from inside the penalty area. Seven matches into the African group phase, Nigeria are the only country to win away after three home victories and three draws.
Meanwhile, Dieumerci Mbokani scored twice as the Democratic Republic of Congo made an emphatic start to the group phase of Africa’s World Cup qualifiers with a 4-0 thumping of Libya while both the Ivory Coast and Senegal also emerged victorious on Saturday.
There were also potentially important away points collected by Morocco and South Africa on the opening weekend of games in the five groups, from which the winners go on to compete at the 2018 finals in Russia.
Striker Mbokani, recently signed by Hull City, netted after just six minutes to set the tone in Kinshasa with Jonathan Bolingi and Ndombe Mubele adding goals in a onesided performance that could have ended with a even more convincing winning margin had the hosts taken all their chances. Gervinho hammered home a left footed cracker for the Ivory Coast as they came from a goal down to beat Mali 3-1 in Bouake. Sambou Yatabare scored to give Mali an 18th minute lead in the Group C clash but it lasted only eight minutes before Jonathan Kodjia equalised with an effort from outside the penalty area.
A horror own goal from Salif Coulibaly meant the African champions went 2-1 up just after the half hour mark before Gervinho’s superb finish gave the Ivorians a two-goal advantage at half-time. There were no more goals in the second half of an entertaining derby clash. — Agencies
NDOLA: Zambia’s Collins Mbesuma runs with the ball during the FIFA World Cup qualifier between Zambia and Nigeria at the Levy Mwanawasa Satdium in Ndola yesterday. — AFP