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FIFA World Cup: Russia 2018 Qualifiers

Nigeria and Egypt Book Early World Cup Spots

Nigeria and Egypt became the first two African sides to book a 2018 World Cup qualification spot after crucial wins against Zambia and Congo respectively. Nigeria claimed one of the first World Cup spots after beating closest rivals Zambia 1-0, in Uyo on Saturday.

The Super Eagles who have not lost a World Cup qualification match in the 21st century yet again put on another dominant display against the Chipolopolo who were hoping that this would be the year the side made it to the biggest footballing stage.

A goal from super-sub, Alex Iwobi was all Nigeria needed to secure a place from “the group of death” with a game to go and advanced with 13 points after the weekend win, while Zambia finished on seven, one ahead of third-placed Cameroon who beat bottom-placed Algeria 2-0 in Yaounde earlier on the same day.

This will be Nigeria’s sixth appearance at the World Cup since making a maiden appearance in 1994. They reached the second round in 1994, 1998 and 2014 but were unfortunate to crash out of the tournament in the group stages in 2002 and 2010.

With a rich youthful streak beaming through the side, Nigeria will be hoping the likes of Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Isaac Success, and Moses Simon continue their rapid improvement if they are to better their chances to last 16.

Egypt, later on, beat Congo 2-1 in a dramatic game to book the second CAF qualification spot ending a 28-year-old absence from the competition. The Pharaohs knew they needed a win to qualify after their closest rivals Uganda was held to a 0-0 draw in Kampala on Saturday.

Liverpool’s Mohammad Salah put Egypt ahead after 63 minutes in Alexandria only for Arnold Bouka Moutou to equalize two minutes from the end of regular time, raising tensions among Egyptian fans.

Egypt was awarded a crucial penalty deep into injury time after Mahamoud Hassan was brought down in the box, immediately sparking dramatic celebrations at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria. Mo Salah once more stepped up and held his nerve to convert the penalty and send the side to the World Cup with a game in hand.

Egypt might have won four African Cup of Nations titles since 1990 (‘98, ‘06, ‘08 and ‘10) but have consistently failed to qualify for the World Cup. The pressure to qualify and expectations in this campaign have been so high to an extent of forcing their Argentinian Gaffer, Hector Cuper to medicate on high blood pressure prescriptions.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”I am taking hypertension medicine due to the stress I suffer from continuing criticism. Life is full of stress, but the challenge of reaching the World Cup is the toughest stress I have faced,”[/perfectpullquote]

he told reporters after the game.

The Egyptians immediately kicked off celebrations in high gear with fans taking to the streets at home in jubilation – honking cars and waving the Egyptian red, white and black flags across the country. In Cairo, the army dropped hundreds of Egyptian flags on thousands of fans gathered at the city’s iconic Tahrir square as they sang and danced into the night.

In the final fixtures set for early November, Tunisia and Senegal are favorites to join Nigeria and Egypt in Russia while Morocco will travel to face Ivory Coast in a tense game where either of the two can go through.

Egypt and Nigeria have joined Belgium, England, Poland, Russia (as hosts), Spain, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil as part of the elite 15 sides that have already qualified for the tournament.



Featured Photo: FIFA


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