Substitute Alex Iwobi propelled Nigeria to the 2018 World Cup with a late strike that earned the Super Eagles a 1-0 victory over Zambia.
Iwobi latched onto a cutback just inside the box after good interplay between Victor Moses and Shehu Abdullahi, before drilling home with unerring accuracy in the 74th minute.
The victory means the Super Eagles became the first African country to qualify for the World Cup, but they were made to work for every second of the 90 minutes by a brave and fearless Chipolopolo, who remained in the hunt for a ticket to Russia until the final whistle.
The Zambians frustrated Nigeria in a feisty first half where tackles flew and both sides struggled to create anything more than half chances.
Although the Super Eagles marginally edged the few opportunities created in the first half, it was Zambia who hit the post.
With Ogenyi Onazi off injured, Gernot Rohr threw in Mikel Agu, but the gulf in class between the duo was immediately apparent. Without Onazi’s snappy tackling, Nigeria’s control of the midfield loosened, leaving Zambia room to roam free as Agu consistently lost tackles, then resorted to fouling and picked up a yellow card within five minutes of coming on.
It was from one such missed tackle that the chance came, but Ikechukwu Ezenwa was alert to palm it onto the post.
Nigeria also created opportunities of their own; the impressive Abdullahi Shehu bounded down the right channel almost straight from kickoff to deliver a low cross which Kennedy Mweene did well to get his body behind, but it took another 16 minutes before Nigeria’s probing created another opening.
Following an interception and a quick break, John Obi Mikel played a smart give and go with Moses Simon, who raced down right channel to deliver another low cross for Odion Ighalo
However, on this occasion, there was too much weight on the ball and the forward could not reach it on time as it dribbled across the face of goal.
The chances were even fewer in the second half as Nigeria looked to be tiring, especially after the forced substitution of Onazi.
With 25 minutes to play, Gernot Rohr threw on Arsenal man Iwobi for Simon, and his impact was almost immediate.
First, he charged forward on a breakaway and played in Victor Moses, but the Chelsea man could not get the ball to sit and the chance was cleared.
But Iwobi was not to be denied, and when the impressive duo of Moses and Abdullahi combined to set him up on the edge of the area, he was clinical, just like in the first game between the two teams back in October.
The win takes Nigeria up to 13 points, six ahead of Zambia, and with one match to play, they can begin to look forward to their sixth appearance at the grandest stage of all.
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