A late penalty scored by goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene helped holders Zambia to snatch a 1-1 draw against Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Nigeria overcame the early setback of a missed John Obi Mikel penalty to take the lead through Emmanuel Emenike’s goal on 57 minutes in Nelspruit.
But Zambia responded with a penalty of their own in the 85th minute of Friday’s match, keeper Mweene coolly dispatching the spot kick to secure a share of the spoils at Mbombela Stadium.
The opening twenty minutes were characterised by a general 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 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 breakthrough.
Davies Nkausu, under pressure from Ahmed Musa, brought the CSKA Moscow man down, the ref not hesitating to point to the spot.
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, Emenike – Nigeria’s goalscorer in their first match – was unable to latch on to 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 face of the goal, which Emenike failed to touch into the net.
Ten minutes into the second half, the young striker finally made his mark with a fine finish putting the Super Eagles ahead.
After pick-pocketing Lungu in midfield, John Obi Mikel made amends for his earlier miss and played Emenike in through down the middle, and the striker made no mistake, firing his side ahead with a clever finish.
Zambia sought far and wide for the inspiration that would see them get back on level terms, and 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.
Mweene stepped up, and looking as calm as can be, he dispatched a beautiful spot-kick past opposite number 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 teams had to settle for the draw.
Zambia’s final game of the group stage is against Burkina Faso, while Nigeria tackle Ethiopia, with Group C still wide open.
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