Iwobi, Iheana­cho score as Nige­ria tri­umph, Congo win

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

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

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