Nigeria and Zimbabwe play a scoreless match in their pre-2019 Africa Cup of Nations friendly at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba on Saturday.
Opportunities were few and far between in a rain-swept encounter that marked the return of captain Mikel Obi to the camp of the three-time African champions after a year out, and despite the conditions, he showed his fitness and usual firmness in the middle and fully deserved the Man-of-the-Match award that came at the end.
As early as the 5th minute, Mikel orchestrated what could have been Nigeria’s opener, as he quickly switched play and found Alex Iwobi, who found Paul Onuachu, but the Denmark –based forward, whose goal condemned seven –time African champions Egypt to defeat at the same venue in March, could only find the side of the net.
It was a game that switched from one end to the other, and in the 22nd minute, with only goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi to beat, Warriors’ captain Knowledge Musona steered his shot over the woodworks.
In-between Mikel entertaining the crowd with some deft touches, Samuel Kalu flashed a number of shots way from goal, and Khama Billiat and Nyasha Mushekwi fluffed opportunities at the other end.
In the second half, the introduction of Ahmed Musa enabled more urgency to the Nigerian game. He sneaked behind the Warriors’ rearguard a number of times but Paul Onuachu, Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze failed to connect.
Chukwueze flashed a shot across the Zimbabwean goal and Musa’s teasing cross missed everyone in the box. As the game wore on, defender Jamilu Collins failed to steer the ball past George Chigova in goal for Zimbabwe when put through by Mikel.
The introduction of Henry Onyekuru presaged more problems for Zimbabwe at the left side of defence, but they held firm and Chigova even palmed out Ahmed Musa’s fierce shot for a corner.
The Super Eagles will depart Asaba by a chartered flight on Sunday morning for Egypt, where they will continue their final preparations for the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations in Ismailia before heading to their tournament venue, Alexandria on 17th June.
Nigeria play Burundi, Guinea and Madagascar in that order in the group phase of the competition scheduled for 21st June – 19th July.