ZIMBABWE were moments away from a famous win over African power Nigeria in a World Cup qualification match on Sunday, after Walter Musona put the hosts ahead with a stunning first-half freekick that prompted teary celebration from the overjoyed winger.
Kelechi Iheanacho equalised to salvage a 1-1 draw for the Nigerians, who played second fiddle to their less fancied opponents for most of the match.
Zimbabwe, hosting games in Rwanda because of sub-standard grounds at home, took the lead in the 26th minute through a free-kick by Musona, the younger brother of former Warriors talismanic captain Knowledge Musona. The FC Platinum forward hammered the ball into the top corner from 30 yards out.
The better side in the first half, Zimbabwe appeared unfazed by the opposition’s pedigree, knocking the ball around confidently and defending solidly when out of possession.
England-born midfielder Andy Rinomhota had an impressive debut for Zimbabwe. The 26-year-old, who plays for Cardiff City in the EFL Championship, quickly settled well into the Warriors side.
Nigeria came into the game in the second half, though Zimbabwe also had chances to win the game.
Lively second-half substitute Tanaka Shandirwa blew a glorious chance for Zimbabwe to win the match in the final stages after blasting a first-time effort in the box over the bar when he had options to control the ball and find the target.
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 their opening matches, Zimbabwe drew 0-0 away to Rwanda on Wednesday while Nigeria were surprisingly held to a 1-1 at home draw by Lesotho on Thursday.
The slow start to their qualifying campaign for the 2026 World Cup will be cause for concern for Nigeria’s coach José Peseiro, who was criticised following the draw with Lesotho in Uyo.
Nigeria have 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.–STAFF WRITER/AP.