Alex Iwobi on Saturday sealed Nigeria’s qualification for the Russia 2018 World Cup after he scored the lone goal in Nigeria’s 1-0 win over Zambia at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo.
The goal put paid to the hopes of Chipolopolo, who were seeking their first World Cup appearance.
The Super Eagles will finish top of Group B and became the first team from Africa to secure their place at next year’s finals. It will be the Eagles’ sixth appearance at the global event.
Nigeria joined the likes of Brazil, England, Germany, Spain and hosts Russia, who have qualified for the tournament.
The Super Eagles, who remain unbeaten in the qualifiers, have amassed 13 points while the Zambians remain on seven points. Cameroon beat Algeria 2-0 in the second Group B qualifying match of the day to sit third with six points while the Algerians are last with one point.
The last matches in the qualifiers will be played in November with Nigeria travelling to Algeria while Zambia host Cameroon.
The Eagles put up one of their best performances since the start of the qualifiers against a young and physical Zambian side in Uyo. It was a tough match which could have gone either way as both teams battled for maximum points.
But substitute Iwobi settled the tie when he blasted home from a pull back by Shehu Abdullahi.
Eagles coach Gernot Rohr maintained the starting team, which got four points against Cameroon in September. The German started Elderson Echiejile, Abdullahi, Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong in defence. Wilfred Ndidi and Ogenyi Onazi were in defensive midfield while Moses, Mikel and Moses Simon supported Ighalo in the attack. IfeanyiUbah’s Ikechukwu Ezenwa remained in goal.
Nigeria started the stronger and should have opened the scoring in the 17th minute when Simon played a fine low cross from the right flank, but Ighalo wasn’t quite able to reach the ball.
The hosts suffered an early injury blow when Onazi picked up a knock and was replaced by Mikel Agu – the change affected the rhythm of Rohr’s team as the Zambians held sway for longer periods in the midfield in the first half.
Zambia had the better chances in the first half with Alex Ngonga proving a handful for Echeijile in the left flank. It took Balogun’s support to neutralise the threat of the fast attacker from the flank.
Ezenwa made a wonderful save to stop a goal-bound shot from Ngonga in the 35th minute. The IfeanyiUbah goalkeeper parried the shot away for a Zambian corner kick.
The Eagles threatened several times but could not find a way past the Zambian defenders. Ighalo, Moses and Simon had chances but none was able to break the deadlock.
However, Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene made his first real save in the 57th minute from a looping header by Ndidi from a free kick by Moses.
The Eagles finally broke through in the 73rd minute, with substitute Iwobi, who replaces Simon, latching onto Abdullahi’s pull-back. The Arsenal forward fired a low shot through a crowd of bodies and into the back of the net.
It was his second goal for Nigeria. His first goal also came against Zambia in the first leg of the match in Ndola on October 9, 2016. The Eagles won the match 2-1.
Ola Aina came on for injured Echiejile in the 79th minute to make his debut for Nigeria.