- Defeat Zambia 1-0
The Super Eagles of Nigeria saturday prevailed 1-0 in a tense match against the Copper Bullets of Zambia at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo to qualify for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi scored in the 73rd minute a few minutes after coming on as a substitute to hand Nigeria all three points against a stubborn Zambia side that threatened on occasion to spoil the home side’s celebrations.
The win means Nigeria – unbeaten with 13 points after five matches – have an unassailable lead over second place Zambia who have seven points with a round of matches to go for both teams. The other teams in the group, Cameroon and Algeria, were already eliminated from the competition before their meeting yesterday which the Indomitable Lions won 2-0 to stay third on six points.
President Muhammadu Buhari led the congratulatory messages showered on the team after their epic performances stretching back to the first qualifying match. So far, Nigeria have won four and drawn one of their five matches.
President Buhari, who was Head of State when Nigeria won her first international football competition at Under 17 level in 1985, described the “hard-earned” victory of the Eagles as “very sweet, soothing and a 57th Independence Anniversary gift to the nation.”
President, Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, yesterday stated “with today’s victory, preparations for the World Cup has started. Having delivered the ‘baby World Cup’ in 1985, we hope that Buhari will deliver the main World Cup in 2018.”
The pulsating match saw missed chances at both ends by the time Shehu Abdullahi provided the cut-back for Iwobi to finish from inside the box in the 73rd minute.
Odion Ighalo, John Mikel Obi, Victor Moses and Moses Simon had all gone close for the Super Eagles but failed to score.
Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mwenne also produced an acrobatic save to deny Wilfred Ndidi in the second half as the Eagles mounted pressure on their opponents.
Earlier, Augustine Mulenga thought he had put Zambia ahead in the 22nd minute, but his effort was ruled out for offside.
Fashion Sakala, Alex Ng’onga and Enock Mwepu also had chances for the Chipolopolo but the 2012 African Champions failed to punish a sometimes frantic Eagles defence.
But substitute Iwobi, who also scored in the reverse fixture in Ndola last October, finished off a decent attack to send Nigeria to a third straight World Cup appearance.
Victor Moses had a great opportunity to add a second towards the end, but the Chelsea wing-back slipped inside the box.
Nigeria qualified after breezing through a group dubbed the “Group of Death” and expected to go down to the wire. At the time the qualifying groups were announced, Algeria were the highest rated team on the continent while Cameroon were crowned African champions early this year, just two matches into the qualifying games.
However, despite not qualifying for the past two African Cup of Nations (in 2015 and 2017), the Eagles have once again proven to be one of the very best teams on the continent by returning to the world stage.
At previous World Cups, Nigeria have reached the second round in 1994, 1998 and 2014, but exited the tournament in the group stage in 2002 and 2010.