Reigning African champions, Zambia had goalkeeper and vice- captain Kennedy Mweene to thank after he saved a penalty at one end and score another at the other end to earn his side their second draw in as many matches.
A mouth- watering match in group C played at Nelspruit’s Mbombela Stadium thrilled the near full capacity crowd that witnessed the box to box encounter.
Both teams now enter their last group match on the back of two draws.
Emmanuel Emenike’s goal in the 57th minute gave Nigeria the lead that they held onto until Emmanuel Nosa brought down Emmanuel Mayuka in the penalty box in the 84th minute. Up stepped Mweene to send his opposite number Vincent Enyeama the wrong way with a cool penalty to restore parity.
Mweene was a beacon of resistance for Zambia making saves in particular in the second half when Nigeria strike force threatened with Musa and Emenike going close. In the 25th minute Nigeria could have gone into the lead from the penalty spot after Davies Nkausu upended Emenike in the box.
John Obi Mikel’s low penalty kick was turned over for a corner by Mweene’s finger tips to keep Zambia in the game. The first half ended goalless but a supercharged Super Eagles emerged from the break to take the lead through Emenike.
The draw leaves both teams needing nothing short of victory in the final group match to entertain any hopes of qualification to the second round. Perhaps not many who would have predicted that Zambia and Nigeria, thought to be the two most likely to reach the quarter finals would be sitting on two points after two games but such has been the unpredictability of AFCON 2013.
At Mbombela, Zambia got out of the blocks quicker than Nigeria with some sharp pacey attacks on Nigerian defence. Emmanuel Mayuka made a lively start winning a free for his side in a promising position around 30 meters from Enyeama’s goal. Defender Stopilla Sunzu got his head to the free kick but it lacked direction and Nigeria survived.
After absorbing the Chipolopolo pressure Nigeria enjoy the majority of possession as they controlled the midfield battle with John Obi Mikel growing in stature.
Although it was Zambia who carve open the first chance through Mayuka who rose highest to meet Joseph Musonda’s right-wing cross only to see Enyeama pull a fine save Nigeria almost opened the scoring when Kenneth Omeruo send in a cross from the left and Emenike ghosted in to head just over the cross bar .
It was an early sign of danger for Zambia as Nigerian strikers made inroads into the champions’ defence. Having held out in the first half and perhaps shading the real scoring chance slightly Zambia were on the back foot at the start of the second.
Whatever Nigeria coach, Stephen Keshi said to his charges during the break worked wonders as Nigeria were the better side. Zambia attacked sporadically but upped their game as the clocked ticked. Chipolopolo went in search of an equaliser with substitute Jacob Mulenga and Rainford Kalaba almost scoring.
Collins Mbesuma who replaced captain Christopher Katongo should have equalised after some fine work from Mulenga but with just the keeper to beat from inside the box the big striker tried to place his short instead of shooting and Enyeama gathered comfortably.
Nigeria were however to concede a later goal for the second time when Mweene most certainly the man-of the-match converted the penalty. Mweene then turned from goal scorer to goal stopper as a shell-shocked Nigeria tried to win it in the dying minutes. But wasn’t to be and Chipolopolo and Super Eagles’ fate will be decided on last match day of the group stage on the Tuesday the 29th.
Stephen Keshi ( Nigeria coach) said at the post march press conference: “My goal was to collect all three points and it wasn’t difficult but l am happy with the result.
“Every game is difficult in this competition and Ethiopia will be a tough game too.”
“We don’t have a specialist penalty taker so if in the next game we score then we score but if we miss a penalty well that’s that,” he added.
According to Herve Renard (Zambia coach): “It started out a typical game you would expect under these circumstances but the goal changed it all. We had to dig deep to find strength within ourselves.
“Nigeria has three very good strikers but fortunately for us we made it from this game. We now have to wait for the final group game against Burkina Faso to see what happens next.
“We have our chance and destiny in our own hands . I think we are still capable of qualifying to the quarter finals.”