Zambia earns late tie against Nigeria
NELSPRUIT, South Africa (AP)
Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene once again proved decisive on penalties Friday as the defending champion held Nigeria to a 1-1 draw in the African Cup of Nations.
Mweene first saw Nigeria's John Obi Mikel send a spot kick onto the outside of the post in the first half after diving the right way, and then scored one himself at the other end to equalize the game in the 85th minute.
Mweene's penalty-saving prowess was one of the keys during Zambia's winning campaign in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea last year, and Mikel seemed to be wary of the goalkeeper's skills as he sent a weak kick onto the post in the 25th.
Emmanuel Emenike then put Nigeria ahead with a smooth finish in the 57th minute, leaving Zambia's hopes of defending the title hanging by a thread. But they were handed a lifeline when Egyptian referee Ghead Grisha awarded a penalty for a foul by Ogenyi Onazi.
There was no keeping out Mweene's effort, as he found the top right-hand corner of the net, but Grisha's decision later came in for heavy criticism from the Nigerian camp.
''It was a bizarre call for a penalty. It really was one of the worst calls I've seen in the history of football,'' Nigeria captain and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama said. ''You don't see such calls for a game of such magnitude as Nigeria versus Zambia. I don't know what's really happening about the officiating. I'm really mad.''
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi added: ''In a big game like this the penalty's got to be clear. But he's the chief and the boss on the field, he's taken a decision and we just have to try and move ahead.''
The poor quality of the pitch made attractive football difficult in Group C's signature clash, with few clear-cut chances from open play.
Davies Nkausu granted Nigeria the first opportunity with a clumsy challenge on Ahmed Musa to draw the first penalty, only for Mikel to let Zambia off the hook.
Although the referee awarded a corner after the ball went off the post, Mweene later confirmed that he had not touched the ball.
Zambia responded with a bright period in which Chisamba Lungu tested Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama with a free kick and Stoppila Sunzu headed narrowly wide.
However, Nigeria came out with greater purpose in the second half, and capitalized on a mistake by Zambia when Mikel stole the ball from Lungu before slipping it through to Emenike, who took a crisp touch before firing home his second goal of the tournament.
That knocked the wind out of Zambia, which struggled to make headway despite a raft of substitutions until Onazi tangled with Emmanuel Mayuku on the edge of the penalty area to give away the penalty.
The result left both teams with two points apiece after also drawing their opening games 1-1.
''With the circumstances of course I am happy with the result. Don't forget we had the Super Eagles in front of us and in 2012 they did not lose one game,'' Zambia coach Herve Renard said. ''We are still alive and in a good position to qualify for the next round.''