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Nigeria’s senior soccer team, Super Eagles on Tuesday at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos, qualified for the final round of qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers after securing a vital point in the draw against Cape Verde.
The game was a tension-soked encounter that could have gone the way of either side, with Nigeria knowing just one point will be enough to book a place in the plays-off.
Gernot Rohr, Eagles head coach, stuck to the unconventional 3-5-2 formation he deployed for the 2-0 victory over Liberia while also making only one change to the team which relied on two penalties against the Lone Stars on Saturday.
Odion Ighalo got the nod ahead of Kelechi Iheanacho as the 33-year-old striker returned to the Eagles’ starting line-up for the first time since he announced his retirement after AFCON 2019.
Rohr had admitted that the Eagles still had a lot of work to do after their last game, and Tuesday evening, the team produced an improved performance in the final third.
The kick-off whistle had barely gone when Victor Osimhen put Nigeria ahead. He was well-positioned to pounce on an error from the Cape Verdean defence, slotting the ball deftly under the arms of Vozinha.
The pocket of fans at the stadium was still reeling in celebration when Cape Verde struck with an immediate response.
Ryan Mendes reacted quickest to a well-lofted corner kick and stabbed the ball past a stunned Maduka Okoye in goal in the fifth minute.
Nigeria, however, refused to relinquish the game’s control to the resurging Blue Sharks.
Joe Aribo’s curler from the edge of the 18-yard was stymied wide by an alerted Vozinha while Ighalo watched his header sail inches above the bar before the opposition goal keeper produced a reflexive save off an Osimhen’s glancing header.
After the resumption of the second half, Nigeria’s attacking edge lulled and the Cape Verdeans swarmed the Eagles.
But the Blue Sharks failed to make the pressure count as Nigeria secured a valuable draw that sent the team into the final round of qualifiers.
Nigeria finished top of Group C with 13 points.