Impressive Zimbabwe hold Nigeria, comes close to snatching famous victory

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Kelechi Iheanacho equalised to salvage a 1-1 draw for Nigeria against Zimbabwe on Sunday as both sides opened their World Cup qualifying campaigns with two consecutive draws.

Zimbabwe, hosting games in Rwanda because of a lack of suitable stadiums at home, took the lead in the 26th minute through a free kick by forward Walter Musona, who hammered the ball into the top corner from 30 yards out.

The better side in the first half, Zimbabwe appeared unfased by the opposition’s pedigree, knocking the ball around confidently and defending solidly when out of possession.

Nigeria came into the game in the second half, though Zimbabwe also had chances to win the game.

Leicester City forward Iheanacho, a second half substitute for the Super Eagles, scored the equaliser in the 67th with a clinical finish inside the box after he was set up by captain Moses Simon.

In its opening matches, Zimbabwe drew 0-0 away to Rwanda on Wednesday while Nigeria was surprisingly held to a 1-1 at home by Lesotho on Thursday.

The result leaves both teams on two points in Group C, one point behind leader South Africa, which has a game in hand.

The slow start to its qualifying campaign for the 2026 World Cup will be cause for concern for Nigeria’s coach Jose Peseiro, who was criticised following the draw with Lesotho in Uyo.

Nigeria has been to six World Cups but failed to qualify for the last edition in Qatar in 2022.

The 63-year-old Portuguese will likely come under pressure again, despite Nigeria’s chances of qualifying this time around being boosted by the expansion of the tournament from 32 to 48 teams starting in 2026 in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Nine teams from Africa will qualify directly, and a 10th team could make the field through an inter-continental playoff.

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