The Super Eagles claimed the first three points of Group B as the race to the 2018 FIFA World Cup began on Sunday, leaving hosts Zambia rueing a poor start to the campaign in a difficult group.
A marvelous team performance saw the Eagles win a competitive away match for the first time since November 2014, when goals by Ikechukwu Uche and Aaron Samuel earned Nigeria a 2-1 win over Congo in Pointe Noire, in a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
Hoping to make Nigeria’s Europe –based legion uncomfortable with an early afternoon start, and in front of a full house at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium, the Chipolopolo were given a boost when President Edgar Lungu stormed the venue to lead the support.
The 2012 African champions started with some hard running, but William Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo in the Nigerian heart of defence were very alert. Goalkeeper Carl Ikeme deflected a shot from the right over the crossbar as early as the second minute, and eventually made eight saves including from close range bullet headers.
After the initial efforts by the host, Skipper Mikel Obi took charge of matters in the midfield, and Moses Simon, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho combined well to put the Zambia defence on its toes.
Ageless Collins Mbesuma, as well as Rainford Kalaba, Fwayo Tembo and Jackson Mwanza made Nigeria sweat on occasions, but after Iwobi swung a volley into the net for Nigeria’s opener in the 34th minute and Iheanacho sprang past Kennedy Nweene to score Nigeria’s second in the 42nd minute, the game was as good as over.
Although Mbesuma pulled one back for the Zambians in the 71st minute, the Super Eagles contained the opposition well and finished strongly.
It meant Franco-German Technical Adviser Gernot Rohr has won his two matches in charge of Nigeria since his appointment in August.
NFF President Amaju Pinnick said: “We praise the efforts of the players and the technical crew, and we thank the Minister of Sports for his words of encouragement before the match. We are happy with the three points but it is a marathon, not a sprint. We still have five matches to play. We will take it one match at a time. Next stop is ‘Operation Beat Algeria.”