Mixed start for COSAFA sides in World Cup qualifiers

The youthful attacking partnership of Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi delivered a goal each as Nigeria made a winning start to the group phase of the African World Cup qualifiers with a 2-1 away victory at COSAFA side Zambia on Sunday.

The 20-year-olds both scored in the first half in Ndola as Nigeria served notice of their potential in Group B despite their failure to qualify for January’s African Nations Cup finals.

They have taken the early initiative in a tough group where Algeria and Cameroon drew 1-1 in Blida, where Daniel Bennett was the referee.

There was also an away win for Egypt while Tunisia beat Guinea 2-0 at home on Sunday.

English-born Iwobi swept home a right footed effort just after the half-hour mark after Zambia’s defence failed to clear a long throw in.

Iheanacho went on a mazy run, around the goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene before cutting in and squeezing the ball inside the goal in the 42nd minute for the second.

Zambia pulled one back through veteran striker Collins Mbesuma with 20 minutes remaining but could not conjour up an equaliser and look likely to struggle in Group B.

Algeria were in the lead over Cameroon after just eight minutes through El Arabi Soudani after sloppy defending at a corner but Benjamin Moukandjo hammered home an equaliser after 24 minutes.

Egypt came from behind in Brazzaville to win and take an early lead in Group E with goals from Mohamed Salah and Abdallah El Said in their 2-1 triumph over Congo.

The home side had take advantage of a defensive slip to score first through Ferebory Dore after Salah had missed two good chances but the Roma striker headed home just four minutes before half-time.

He then turned provider for El Said in a 58th minute counter attack that handed Egypt, who fielded the 43-year-old Essam Al Hadary in goal, a potentially precious haul of points.

Aymen Abdennour and substitute Anis Ben Hatira both scored in the second half to see Tunisia join the Democratic Republic of Congo as winners on the opening weekend of Group A matches.

Central defender Abdennour scored from a corner just before the hour mark in Monastir while Ben Hatira’s effort came with 10 minutes left.

Meanwhile on Saturday, Dieumerci Mbokani scored twice as the Democratic Republic of Congo made an emphatic start to the group phase with a 4-0 thumping of Libya while both the Ivory Coast and Senegal also emerged victorious.

There were also potentially important away points collected by Morocco and South Africa on the opening weekend of games in the five groups, from which the winners go on to compete at the finals in Russia in two years’ time.

Striker Mbokani, recently signed by Hull City, netted after just six minutes to set the tone in Kinshasa with Jonathan Bolingi and Ndombe Mubele adding goals in a one-sided performance that could have ended with a even more convincing winning margin had the hosts taken all their chances.

Gervinho hammered home a left footed cracker for the Ivory Coast as they came from a goal down to beat Mali 3-1 in Bouake.

Sambou Yatabare scored to give Mali an 18th minute lead in the Group C clash but it lasted only eight minutes before Jonathan Kodjia equalised with an effort from outside the penalty area. A horror own goal from Salif Coulibaly meant the African champions went 2-1 up just after half hour mark before Gervinho’s superb finish gave the Ivorians a two-goal advantage at half-time. There were no more goals in the second half of an entertaining derby clash.

Morocco drew 0-0 away in Gabon in the other Group C clash.

Lazio striker Balde Diao Keita struck in the first half and substitute Moussa Sow in the 80th minute as Senegal went top of Group D with an uninspiring 2-0 home win over the Cape Verde Islands in Dakar.

In the same group, Burkina Faso scrambled a stoppage time equaliser in a 1-1 draw with South Africa in Ouagadougou after squandering two penalties.

South Africa goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune saved the first from Jonathan Pitroipa in the 10th minute and watched as the second from Alain Traore, three minutes from time, was blasted way over the top. South Africa had taken an 80th minute lead through midfielder Dean Furman and will be kicking themselves they let a potential away victory slip away right near the end with some poor defending.

The second round of African qualifiers will be played next month but the last four rounds will take place between August and November next year. Only the winner of the five groups will compete at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.