Nigeria defeated Zambia 1-0 at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo on Saturday evening to book a place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The Super Eagles will finish top of Group B and become the first team from Africa to secure their place at next year’s finals. It will also be their sixth appearance at the global event.
Nigeria started the stronger of the two teams and should have opened the scoring in the 17th minute when Moses Simon played a fine low cross from the right flank, but striker Odion Ighalo wasn’t quite able to reach the ball.
The hosts suffered an early injury blow when midfield Ogenyi Onazi picked up a knock and had to be replaced by Ndubisi Agu, affecting the rhythm of Gernot Rohr’s team.
Zambia saw less of the ball but they had the better chances, with the powerful and speedy Alex Ngonga proving a real handful: just past the half hour mark he outmuscled Leon Balogun before stabbing a shot over the crossbar, while on 36 minutes he hit the post with a long-range effort which took an awkward bounce.
Nigeria responded with half-chances on the volley for all of John Obi Mikel, Ighalo and Simon, but none of them troubled goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene.
However, the Zambian ‘keeper was called into action in the 57th minute to make a superb save from a looping header by Wilfred Ndidi – the attempt looked destined for the back of the net.
The Super Eagles finally broke through in the 73rd minute, with substitute Alex Iwobi latching onto Shehu Abdullahi’s cut-back from the right flank before firing a low shot through a crowd of bodies and into the back of the net.
The Arsenal attacker’s goal proved to be the difference between the teams, with Nigeria seeing out the rest of the game in relative comfort to secure a place in next year’s World Cup.