Nigeria’s Super Eagles are the first African side to qualify for next year’s edition of the FIFA World Cup in Russia after defeating Zambia at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo on Saturday.
Arsenal man Alex Iwobi scored the winner for Nigeria within seven minutes of replacing Moses Simon.
The Zambians needed an outright win to stay alive in the race for the sole ticket to the World Cup and their head coach Weda Nyirenda named a side with seven changes from the one that suffered a 2-1 defeat at home to Nigeria just a year ago in the reverse game in Ndola.
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Gernot Rohr stuck to the same Nigeria side that played Cameroon over two legs last month, but the Super Eagles were made to work for the win by the Zambians.
Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho who scored in Ndola for Nigeria were left on the bench.
The Nigerians started brightly with Simon using his pace just five minutes into the game to earn a corner kick. The KAA Gent winger again on 18 minutes broke free on the flank but Odion Ighalo could not get on the end of his cross.
Zambia’s attacking threat came from Alex Ngonga and Enock Mwepu who gave the centre half pairing of Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong quite a whole to chew on.
Mwepu’s long range attempt just before half time got the slightest of touch from FC Ifeanyiubah goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa and then clips the upright.
Nigeria still had one more chance to take the lead before the break but Ighalo lashed Victor Moses’ pass wide after the ball just kept bubbling without settling nicely for him to hit target.
Moments into the restart, Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene palmed away a looping header by Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi.
Iwobi’s introduction turned the game on its head. On 73 minutes he side-footed Abdullahi Shehu’s cutback, low and hard, past Mweene for the winning goal.
It was a good day in the office for the Nigerians as Ola Aina got his first cap since switching his international allegiance.
Nigeria have now qualified for a sixth World Cup after amassing 13 points, six more than second-placed Zambia. The last games in Group B scheduled for 6 November have now been rendered inconsequential.
The Super Eagles face Algeria in their next game while Zambia play hosts to African champions Cameroon.
Nigeria: EZENWA; Shehu, Echiejile (Aina 80′), Balogun, Troost-Ekong; Ndidi, Mikel, Onazi (Agu 30′); Moses, Simon (Iwobi 66′), Ighalo
Zambia: Mweene; Silwimba, Kapumbu, Tembo, Sunzu, Mtonga, Mwepu, Lungu (Mbewe 51′), Mulenga (Chingangu 87′), Sakala (Shonga 78′), Ngonga
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