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Nigeria on the brink of World Cup

Thursday, October 05, 2017

ABUJA, Nigeria (AFP) — Nigeria host Zambia in their penultimate 2018 World Cup qualifier on Saturday knowing that victory would secure a sixth finals appearance since first qualifying in 1994.

The 2-1 win in the reverse fixture in Ndola 12 months ago helped get the country behind a team who had failed to feature at back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations.

It set the tone for the Super Eagles' excellent campaign in a tough Group B, with Nigeria not dropping points until matchday four in Yaounde.

The 1-1 draw in Cameroon, combined with Zambia winning in Algeria last month, have meant the Chipolopolo are now the only team between Nigeria and next year's tournament in Russia.

Head Coach Gernot Rohr will take much of the credit for the progress the team has made since he took charge in July 2016.

The German is now only 90 minutes away from his biggest accomplishment of a career that has taken him to French club Bordeaux, Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia as well as the national teams of Niger, Burkina Faso and Gabon.

He said: “It will be an interesting but difficult game against Zambia, who we beat 2-1 in Ndola (last year), but they have changed (since).”

The backroom staff have praised Rohr for bringing self-belief to the side, both on and off the pitch, halfway through his two-year contract.

“He has done well, bringing the German mentality and organisation to bear on the whole team,” saluted former Nigeria striker Benedict Akwuegbu.

“The Eagles now play together, are tactically disciplined and they work very hard for each other.”

On the pitch, skipper John Obi Mikel has led by example, Chelsea star Victor Moses has risen to the occasion and Leon Balogun has been nicknamed by an appreciative Rohr as 'our German machine'.

Several young players, like Leicester City pair Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi and Arsenal's Alex Iwobi, have stepped up to the full international game after gaining first-team experience in the English Premier League.