The Super Eagles’ race to USA/Canada/Mexico 2026 commenced on Thursday with the three-time African champions held 1-1 at home in Uyo by the Crocodiles of Lesotho.
Nigeria’s attacking line of stand-in captain Kelechi Iheanacho, Ademola Lookman, Taiwo Awoniyi and Victor Boniface threw stones and sticks at the opposition goal-area but an inspired goalkeeper Sekhoane Moerane, also the team captain, and his rearguard foiled all the attempts and frustrated spectators at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium.
The home team could have fallen behind after 16 minutes when Tsepang Seeali fired point-blank at Francis Uzoho after a poor touch in the box by Alex Iwobi, playing uncharacteristically deep at the back, released the forward who saw his effort parried by Uzoho.
At the other end, defender Jamilu Collins saw his close shot parried; Boniface headed over the sticks and Iheanacho saw a dipping shot from a 20-yard free-kick punched away by the magnificent Moerane.
Awoniyi missed Nigeria’s best chance of the first period when dragging wide a pass by Boniface in the 36th minute, and Lookman watched in shock as his left-footed belter was parried away.
In the second period, Iwobi saw his shot parried in the 52nd minute, and then three minutes later, the Crocodiles shot ahead when Uzoho failed to deal with the ball from a corner kick and Motlomelo Mkwanazi struck gold with a bullet header that sailed into the net.
The Eagles stepped up a gear and Moerane had saved from Collins and Iheanacho watched his shot come back off the upright before Semi Ajayi nodded powerfully past the goal-tender from a corner kick by Iheanacho, for Nigeria’s leveller half-way into the second half.
There were opportunities to hit the winner from promising free-kick positions, but it ended in a stalemate and both teams took a point each from the encounter ahead of the Day 2 clashes coming up this weekend.
Nigeria will fly to the city of Butare in Rwanda to trade tackles with the Warriors of Zimbabwe at the Huye Stadium on Sunday.