A clash between two African heavyweights ends in stalemate as the Zambian keeper's penalty cancels out Emenike's strike after an early spotkick miss from John Obi Mikel
After only managing draws in their first Group C matches, two of the Africa Cup of Nations heavyweights clashed in Nelspruit as Nigeria and Zambia battled for some crucial Afcon points. Nigeria overcame the early setback of a missed John Obi Mikel penalty with Emmanuel Emenike’s goal on 57 minutes, however, Zambia responded with a penalty of their own – keeper Kennedy Mweene with a stunning spotkick to secure the draw.
The tension was palpable in the early stages, with both sides knowing that whilst defeat would be near-fatal, a draw would only serve to increase the immense pressure ahead of their final group game.
The opening twenty minutes were characterised by a lack of quality, and a propensity for long balls from both sets of defences. With the hard, sandy pitch not conducive to slick, silky passing play, this seemed like the wisest option – but the consequence was a a great many aimless punts that led to nothing. One smart Zambian move carved out a neat chance for Rainford Kalaba, but the Mazembe man blazed the ball over the top.
On 25 minutes, it looked as though Nigeria had found the break-through. Davies Nkausu, under pressure from Ahmed Musa, brought the CSKA Moscow man down, the ref not hesitating to point to the spot. John Obi Mikel stepped up, the midfielder looking to recreate his crucial converted penalty against Liberia in the qualifiers. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as the Chelsea player’s spot kick was tame and scuffed, and thudded harmlessly off the post.
The game progressed in a cagey, uninspiring fashion, Emmanuel Emenike – Naija’s goalscorer in their first match – was unable to contend with the many balls played over the top of the Chipolopolo defence.
Things improved in the second period, Nigeria looking brighter and nearly taking the lead with Ahmed Musa breaking away down the right and sending a cross-cum-shot across the goal which Emmanuel Emenike failed to touch into the net.
Ten minutes into the second half, the young striker finally made his mark with a fine finish pushing the Super Eagles ahead. After pick-pocketing Lungu in midfield, John Obi Mikel made amends for his earlier miss and played Emenike in through the middle, the striker made no mistake, and fired Naija ahead with a clever finish.
Zambia sought far and wide for the inspiration that would see them claim some points, it eventually came from an unlikely source. The referee, seeing something that few others did, gave a penalty for the Chipolopolo after minimum contact on Mayuka by Onazi. Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene stepped up, and looking as calm as can be, he dispatched a beautiful spot-kick past Vincent Enyeama.
Keen to avoid a second successive collapse, Nigeria knocked at the door, but neither team managed to find the net again in the game’s dying embers, and the pair had to settle for the draw.
The result leaves the holders in grave danger of elimination, they will need to beat the Stallions next Tuesday and hope that results go their way. Nigeria will also need to up their game on Tuesday against Ethiopia to ensure their continued Afcon participation.