African Cup of Nations Group C, Mbombela Stadium – Zambia 1 (Mweene 85) Nigeria 1 (Emenike 57).
Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene scored a controversial late penalty as Zambia came from behind to draw 1-1 with Nigeria in Group C of the African Cup of Nations.
Mweene, who had saved a John Obi Mikel spot-kick in the first half, coolly blasted the ball into the top right after Nigeria defender Ogenyi Onazi was harshly adjudged to have fouled Emmanuel Mayuka.
Nigeria had led through a 57th-minute strike from the impressive Emmanuel Emenike, with the Super Eagles on balance the better side but Zambia having also spurned some great chances before finally drawing level.
The result means defending champions Zambia and two-times winners Nigeria have drawn their opening two matches at these finals, with Ethiopia and Burkina Faso playing later.
What had promised to be an enthralling clash between the defending champions and one of Africa’s traditional powerhouses was hampered by a dreadful pitch in Nelspruit, the same surface that led to farcical scenes in Zambia’s opening Group C clash with Ethiopia.
Both sides tried their best to play football, but aside from an early half-chance for Raymond Kalaba, the bobble was ruining any attempts to keep it low.
That resulted in a fairly ‘direct’ contest, one which Nigeria should have taken control of when CSKA Moscow forward Ahmed Musa was clumsily brought down by Davies Nkausu.
The referee correctly pointed to the spot but, with Emenike apparently reluctant to take responsibility, Mikel stood up only to place a weak kick off the hand of Mweene, shaving he post and wide.
Zambia almost made them pay immediately, Vincent Enyeama saving well from Chisamba Lungu, while Reading target Stophira Sunzu put a free header wide from a Kalaba free-kick.
Indeed, by the end of the first half Zambia were creating the better chances, although they could not find a finish, with Isaac Chansa’s poor effort straight at Enyeama the final act of the 45.
Nigeria upped the tempo in the second half and they should have gone ahead four minutes in when Musa’s cross shot bobbled away from Emenike. Musa should have got his initial effort on target and, with Emenike anticipating a tap-in, the pitch was again a factor as the final bounce took it off theSpartak Moscow striker’s toe.
Indeed, the Super Eagles were piling the pressure on as Emenike in particular started to cause problems, flicking one finish inches wide after holding off two challenges and flying in on Kennedy Mweene.
And he soon got his breakthrough when, after a mix-up in the Zambia defence, Mikel released the 25-year-old, who took one touch and fired a rasping effort into the bottom left corner.
Nigeria were all over the Zambians, with Emenike again seeing an effort deflected wide, but Zambia did occasionally threaten on the break, with Kalaba denied by an excellent Enyeama saved after his superb flick put him through.
Indeed, they should have drawn level with eight minutes remaining but substitute Collins Mbesuma lazily side-footed his finish straight at Enyeama with just the keeper to beat.
It was a dreadful effort but Zambia levelled soon afterwards, although not without controversy.
Mayuka had the ball on the edge of the box, and he was backing into Osazi with both players grabbing on to the other’s shirt.
Egyptian referee Ghead Grisha pointed to the spot, even though no-one had appealed and any foul looked outside the box.
Mweene, who takes spot-kicks for his club in South Africa but had not previously done so for Zambia, stepped up and with almost serene nonchalance ambled towards the ball before drilling it into the top corner.
That bizarre turn of events pretty much finished the match, with neither side threatening in the final minutes.
Both Nigeria and Zambia now need to win respective matches against Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, who play later in a great opportunity to move a step towards the quarter-finals.