Semi Ajayi’s fine header rescued Nigeria from a shock defeat as Jose Peseiro’s men began their 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw against Lesotho at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo on Thursday.
Motlomelo Mkhwanazi put the visitors ahead 11 minutes into the second half before Semi Ajayi drew level for the Eagles in the 67th minute.
Peseiro retained Francis Uzoho in goal while going for the centre-back pairing of Ajayi and Calvin Bassey with Bright Osayi-Samuel and Jamilu Collins playing as full-backs.
In midfield, the Portuguese tactician opted for the partnership of Alex Iwobi and Frank Onyeka.
Kelechi Iheanacho and Ademola Lookman played from the flanks while the duo Victor Boniface and Taiwo Awoniyi led the Eagles’ attack in the absence of the injured Victor Osimhen.
The hosts put up a dominant performance but lacked the requisite cutting edge in the final third to make it count.
The Eagles created the best chances in the game but were guilty of being wasteful with Awoniyi and Boniface missing the best chances in the first half.
Collins and Iheanaho both came close but it was the visitors who broke the deadlock in the second half to take a shock lead.
After a handful of chances were wasted by the Eagles, the Crocodiles grew into the game in the second 45 minutes and had their first chance after Ajayi committed a foul close to the penalty boxes.
The three-time African champions defended the free kick to a corner.
In what was their first corner of the game, the Crocodiles made it count when Mkwanazi towered above everyone else to head the away side in front.
Peseiro sent in Moses Simon and Terem Moffi for the ineffective Lookman and Awoniyi in search of a quick equalizer.
The substitution paid off as Simon, whose introduction into the team, added some extra bites into the game and he won a corner for Nigeria.
Iheanacho took the resulting corner that met Ajayi and the West Brom defender’s powerful header beat the Lesotho keeper to save Nigeria from a disastrous start to the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier.
Nigeria’s draw against the minnows hands the advantage in Group C to South Africa and Benin Republic who are yet to play in the qualifying series.
Meanwhile, Nigeria are second in the group behind Lesotho while Rwanda and Zimbabwe who also played a goalless draw on Wednesday are third and fourth.
The Eagles will return to action on Sunday at the Huye Stadium in Rwanda where they face Zimbabwe in their second game of the qualifiers.