JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Nigeria huffed and puffed before finally blowing down Namibia to snatch a 1-0 home victory in a 2014 World Cup qualifier on Sunday.
On a day when goals were scarce around the continent — seven games produced just nine — Spain-based Ikechukwu Uche spared the Super Eagles’ blushes by scoring 10 minutes from time.
John Utaka, who helped Montpellier win the French Ligue 1 title last month, constantly threatened the Brave Warriors and had a goal disallowed before being replaced on the hour mark by Ahmed Musa.
Henry Uche and Kalu Uche also came off the bench as coach Stephen Keshi became increasingly anxious to get his Group F campaign off to a winning start in south-east city Calabar.
Keshi, who replaced Samson Siasia last year after Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, did not call up England Premier League trio John Obi Mikel, Peter Odemwingie and Taye Taiwo.
He also had to do without the most capped Nigerian footballer, centre-back Joseph Yobo, because of an injury that will also rule the Turkey-based star out of a match in Malawi next weekend.
Namibia coach Bernard Kaanjuka, whose team lie 23 places below Nigeria in the FIFA African ranking, was true to his word after stressing in pre-match interviews that the Warriors “were not going to roll over for anyone”.
After displaying admirable defensive qualities against Nigeria, the team from the vast, thinly populated southern Africa country will have to show more adventure when Kenya play in Windhoek next Saturday.
A 16th-minute Razack Omotoyossi goal gave Benin a 1-0 home victory over 2012 Cup of Nations bronze medallists Mali in Group H and a win in his first competitive outing with the Squirrels for French coach Manuel Amoros.
Striker Emmanuel Okwi salvaged a 1-1 draw for Uganda in Group J with a goal three minutes from time in Angola after Djalma Campos had given the Black Antelopes an early lead.
The clash of Togo and Libya in Lome also finished 1-1, with an early goal for the Sparrowhawks from France-based striker Kalen Damessi cancelled by veteran Ahmed Al Zwei 15 minutes into the opening half of the Group I game.
Niger and Gabon fought a goalless draw in Niamey — as did top seeds Burkina Faso and Congo Brazzaville in Ouagadougou 24 hours earlier in the other Group E match.
There will be another 20 qualifiers around Africa next weekend, with Saturday fixtures between Zambia and Ghana in Ndola and Morocco and Ivory Coast in Marrakech topping the bill.