By John Egbokhan, Uyo
Supersub, Alex Iwobi was the hero last night as Nigeria dug deep to overcome hard-fighting Zambia in a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier played at the magnificent Godswill Akpabio International stadium, Uyo.
Iwobi’s 73 minute strike earned Nigeria the ticket to Russia. The win put the Eagles on an unassailable 13 points at the top of Group B. The Eagles thus qualified with a match to go against Algeria. Also, Nigeria with the victory yesterday became the first African team to qualify for the World Cup.
The match started on an even keel as the Chipolopolo who came to Nigeria with an aim of beating their hosts took the fight to the Eagles early in the match but the defensive wall of the Eagles marshalled by the duo of Leon Balogun and Troost Ekong repelled them.
Great entertainment in the early stages. Play was cagey with intermittent show of pace by both sides with no clear cut chances.
The Eagles allowed the Zambians a lot of space and they showed what they were capable of with Ngonga firing the first salveo from close range but it is easily dealt with by goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa.
Nigeria’s counter attack also comes to little. Eagles attack was profligate with Odion Ighalo and Mikel Obi being the worst culprits.
Super Eagles first chance came in the 17 minute when Simon Moses centres the ball for Ighalo who slides in but couldn’t connect as the ball sailed away. That should have been 1-0 as any kind of touch would have resulted in a goal.
Ogenyi Onazi was stretchered out in the 24 minute and was replaced by Mikel Agu who plies his trade in Portugal
Simon Moses tried for a goal from the Edge of the box but he was stopped by the Zambian goalkeeper
Midway into the first half, the Super Eagles pilled on the pressure on the visitors with Ighalo looking to profit but he was denied by Tembo.
Captain Mikel surged forward in the 33rd minute and was clipped in a dangerous position but the referee waved play on to the disgust of the fans in Uyo.
Just as the half was wearing out, Mulenga forced a fantastic safe from goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa to the relief of the jam-packed Godswill Akpabio stadium in Uyo.
Mikel Obi, playing in an advanced position fired a volley that went wide. Ighalo too could not keep his composure in the penalty area and his effort in front of goal was well wide.
The first half ended goaless. The Zambians had a goal in the net which was ruled for offside. The game which opened up in the latter stages saw the Super Eagles create a lot of chances but they were not clinical where it mattered.
The second half began with Nigeria having the upper hand. Victor Moses’ cross was connected by Leon Balogun but his header was weak.
Another thunderous header from Wilfred Ndidi was effectively parried away by the Zambian goalkeeper. A corner was given but it came to nothing.
Coach Gernot Rohr looked at his bench and substituted hard-working Moses Simon with Alex Iwobi. His judgement was right as the Arsenal star soon changed the tempo of the game in favour of the homers.
With his pace and running, Iwobi got the ball into the 18 yard box but he was too slow to do anything meaningful. A few minutes later, the Arsenal striker who came on with the pace and brilliance the Eagles needed found himself at the end of a brilliant interchange of passes between Victor Moses and Shehu Abdullahi and he wasted no time as he slotted the ball home to give Nigeria the much needed victory.