By Mark Gleeson
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - 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 victory in Zambia on Sunday.
The Premier League strikers, both 20, 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. Nigeria have taken the early initiative in a tough group in which Algeria and Cameroon drew 1-1 in Blida. There was also an away win in Congo 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 when Zambia’s defence failed to clear a long throw in.
Nigeria's second came when Iheanacho went on a mazy run, rounded the goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene and cut inside to squeeze the ball inside the goal in the 42nd minute.
Zambia pulled one back through veteran striker Collins Mbesuma with 20 minutes remaining but could not conjure up an equaliser and look likely to struggle in Group B.
Algeria led 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 beat Congo 2-1 with goals from Mohamed Salah and Abdallah El Said, a win that gives them an early lead in Group E.
The home side took 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 halftime.
Salah then turned provider for El Said in a 58th-minute counter attack that gave Egypt, who fielded the 43-year-old Essam Al Hadary in goal, a precious victory.
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.
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.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Neil Robinson)