Cameroon merely delayed Nigeria’s 2018 FIFA World Cup ticket celebration even as the African champions were themselves eliminated from the race in a crunchy game that ended 1-1 in Yaounde on Monday.
In the event, the Super Eagles will qualify for their sixth FIFA World Cup finals with three points from their last two matches of the campaign.
Just as they did in Uyo on Friday, the Indomitable Lions started with some pace and passion, but they were immediately matched by a confident Super Eagles pumped up by the 4-0 thrashing of the African champions three days earlier.
As early as the 7th minute, Nigeria had started searching for the goal that would put them in the ascendancy and straight to Russia, but Sebastien Siami headed away a floated free –kick by Victor Moses.
Two minutes later, when Jean Pierre Nsame, surprisingly preferred to Vincent Aboubakar, was gifted an opportunity as Fabrice Olinga drilled the ball into Nigeria’s box, but he wasted it. In the 14th minute, Moses, full of running as he was in Uyo, earned a corner from a breezy run.
On the half hour, Nigeria got the lead that their self –assured approach deserved when Odion Ighalo, giving as much trouble to the Cameroonian defence as he did three days earlier, latched onto a Moses’ pass and got the ball into the box. It was returned, but a lurking Abdullahi Shehu floated it back, and Moses Simon rifled into the roof of Fabrice Ondoa’s net.
Ighalo and Moses threatened the Lions’ defence further, and in the second half, Nigeria continued where they left off as Moses continued to prove quite a menace to the hosts while goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa would not allow any ball past him.
On the hour mark, Cameroon coach Hugo Broos brought on Christian Bassogog and Aboubakar, which enlivened the Lions’ game, and after Moses came close to getting a second for Nigeria with a deft chip that missed narrowly, referee Papa Gassama duly pointed to the penalty spot after Ezenwa foiled Arnaud Njoum in the box in the 73rd minute. Aboubakar scored to level up.
Nigeria could have won it as Moses went for goal from a free kick in the 81st minute only to miss narrowly, and he did not direct a final effort well enough.
Yet, the Eagles deserve commendation for putting in a good shift at the Stade Omnisports Ahmadou Ahidjo, and Nigeria’s Sports Minister, Barrister Solomon Dalung, who met the players just before they left their hotel for the stadium and gave them a message of encouragement from President Muhammadu Buhari, hailed the players for their spirit and sure –footed approach.
“The Super Eagles have done very well. They have made Nigeria proud and I commend them. We are close to getting the ticket to Russia 2018.”
NFF President Amaju Pinnick expressed confidence that the Eagles would wrap up the World Cup ticket when they host Zambia in Uyo next month.
“This was the toughest World Cup qualifying group in Africa and the Super Eagles have been excellent. I praise them for their efforts since the qualifying campaign started and I want them to go for the three points against Zambia so that we wrap up the ticket quickly without further delay.
“Everyone called it the Group of Death, but we are alive to tell the story, and a very good story at that. We await Zambia and I believe the sweet story will be completed in great style.”