Johannesburg — Nigeria suffered a second setback in four days to their hopes of competing at the 2026 World Cup after drawing 1-1 with Zimbabwe on Sunday.
Walter Musona scored direct from a free kick to put Zimbabwe ahead in the first half of the matchday two clash and Kelechi Iheanacho equalised midway through the second half.
Last Thursday, Nigeria also had to come from behind to draw 1-1 at home against Lesotho, the lowest ranked of the six Group C teams.
“It was a tough, difficult flight of many hours from Nigeria and the players did not have sufficient rest,” said Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro.
“Our first half performance was very poor, but we improved considerably in the second half and missed several late chances to take all three points.”
Nigeria have participated at six World Cups – a record bettered only by Cameroon in Africa – and are favourites to win a mini-league, which also includes South Africa, Benin and Rwanda.
But if South Africa win in Rwanda on Tuesday, they will go four points clear of Nigeria after just two rounds.
While Zimbabwe were officially the home team, the match was staged in the Rwandan city of Butare because the southern African nation does not have an international-standard stadium.
Despite lacking the backing of their supporters, Zimbabwe impressed in the opening half and went ahead after 26 minutes.
There did not appear to be any immediate danger to Nigeria when Zimbabwe were awarded a free kick well outside the box.
But Musona, who plays for South African top-tier club Polokwane City, gave goalkeeper Francis Uzoho no chance with a superb kick into the roof of the net.
Peseiro made three changes at half-time and one of the substitutes, Iheanacho, levelled on 67 minutes with a low shot past goalkeeper Bernard Donovan into the corner of the net.
It was a well constructed goal with captain Moses Simon making a timely off-the-ball run to win possession before passing to Iheanacho.
Alex Iwobi and Iheanacho then wasted chances to score and ease the pressure on Peseiro, with many Nigerians calling for him to be fired before the Africa Cup of Nations starts on January 13.
While Nigeria struggle, Egypt, Algeria and Gabon triumphed for the second time in different groups to finish the first two rounds with maximum points.
Former Aston Villa forward Mahmoud ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan netted in each half to earn Egypt a 2-0 Group A victory over hosts Sierra Leone,
Fares Chaibi and Ramiz Zerrouki scored in the second half as four-time World Cup qualifiers Algeria won 2-0 away to Mozambique in Group G.
Gabon followed up a last-gasp win over Kenya under new coach Thierry Mouyouma by overcoming Burundi 2-1 in Group F through goals from Jim Allevinah and Denis Bouanga.
A Charles Pickel own goal 11 minutes from time enabled Sudan to upset the Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 and replace Senegal as Group B leaders.
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