Nigeria became the first African country to qualify for the 2018 Fifa World Cup after beating Zambia 1-0 at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium on Saturday evening.
Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi came off the bench and scored the only goal of the fiercely contested clash within 7 minutes of his introduction.
The Super Eagles will be making their sixth appearance at the global event after emerging winners of Group B in the African qualifiers.
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.
Nigeria: Ikechukwu Ezenwa – Shehu Abdullahi, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Elderson Echiejile (Ola Aina 80’), Wilfred Ndidi, John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi (Ndubisi Agu 30’), Victor Moses, Odion Ighalo, Moses Simon (Alex Iwobi 66’)
Zambia: Kennedy Mweene – Simon Silwimba, Fackson Kapumbu, Ziyo Tembo, Stophila Sunzu, Kondwani Mtonga, Enock Mwepu, Chisamba Lungu (Ernest Mbewe 51’), Augustin Mulenga (John Chingandu 87’), Fashion Sakala (Justin Shonga 78’), Alex Ngonga