A Nigerian fan waves a scarf as he celebrates after the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying football match between Nigeria and Zambia in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on October 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI
Nigeria booked a place in the 2018 World Cup courtesy a 1-0 victory over contenders Zambia. The Zambians who showed grit and resolve needed a victory at the Godswill Akpabio International stadium but an Alex Iwobi strike ended the Zambian dream of a maiden World Cup berth. Nigeria, hence, celebrates qualification to the World Cup as the first African side. Here are five talking points from the game.
IWOBI IS THE REAL DEAL
Alex Iwobi’s goal ensured the Super Eagles were the first African side to secure a spot in the 2018 World Cup. The Arsenal midfielder came on to score the goal in the 73rd minute firing past Kenedy Mweene from Shehu Abdullahi’s cut back. It was Iwobi’s second goal for the Super Eagles coming fittingly against the side he scored his first. The 21-year old came on in the 65th minute for Moses Simon and his impact was felt immediately. The midfielder raced onto a cleared corner that many would have deemed a lost cause. He got to it ahead of his opponent, started off an attack that presented Odion Ighalo a chance but the striker was guilty of overplaying the ball when he could have shot with his left foot. Iwobi’s movement and eye for pass will surely be important in Nigeria’s World Cup campaign in Russia.
SHEHU ABDULLAHI HAS GOT THE RIGHT SPOT LOCKED DOWN
For a defensive midfielder, Shehu Abdullahi has done a brilliant job filling out on the right-hand side of the Super Eagles defence. The former Kano Pillars player barely puts a foot wrong all game, smartly defending and offering width down the right in attack. His intelligent cut back that assisted Iwobi’s goal was borne out of his resolve to keep offering himself as an option in the attack on the right. It could be difficult being part of wing play when the single-minded Moses is ahead. Moses was obstructed when tried to dribble past a defender but his ‘pass’ rolled out to the waiting Abdullahi who delivered the World Cup qualifying assist. Abdullahi’s performance was stark in comparison to his counterpart Elderson Echiejile who offered nothing going forward and was his usual unassured self in possession. Ola Aina might find it impossible to oust the Anorthosis Famagusta player from the starting line up at right back, maybe Aina had better set his sights on the left back role.
TEAM STILL NEEDS WORK
It was far from a smooth performance from Gernot Rohr’s side. The Zambians caused a different shaped problem than the defence was used to. The Super Eagles midfield lacked a proper structure, the Zambians broke through the lines easily with their pace. The left-back is still a very problematic position– perhaps Rohr has seen a solution in Ola Aina. Very often, the team simply scooped Victor Moses the ball and hoped for some magic. The team hardly strung five passes together looking to get the ball upfield as quickly as possible. That in itself isn’t a bad thing but when moves break down often there should be a reconsideration of the approach. Against a more clinical side, the celebration would have been postponed. There still are issues for the Coach to iron out in the side.
TOPPED THE GROUP DEATH
When the draws were made in June 2016 and the Super Eagles were grouped alongside rivals Cameroon and powerhouse Algeria alongside 2012 Africa Cup of Nations winners Zambia, there was not much optimism to be had. But with a game to spare the Super Eagles have secured qualification to the World Cup only dropping two points in the process. Nigeria handed heavy defeats to Algeria (3-1) and Cameroon (4-0) as well as defeating Zambia home and away. 13 points atop the group with Zambia in second place with seven points has gotten the Super Eagles to Russia. Not so morbid after all in the group of death.
No need consulting your translator, it means Hello Russia. Nigeria will be appearing in the World Cup for the sixth time since the World Cup debut in 1994. Only in 2006 did the Super Eagles fail to qualify losing out to Angola. It was more than heart-warming for fans that the Super Eagles were the first African side to qualify, that the qualification was with a game to spare and that there was no head splitting calculations and permutations involved. With a majority of the current squad certain to make the World Cup it would be interesting to see if any player outside the current crop crashes into the team to Russia.