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2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan"
Nigeria qualify for World Cup finals

By Eniwoke Ibagere
© Reuters Limited

Nigeria Austin Okocha dribbles the ball away from a Ghanaian defender during a World Cup qualifier in Port Harcourt, Nigeria July 29, 2001. Nigeria qualified for next year's World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea with a 3-0 defeat on Sunday of arch-rivals Ghana.
Photo George Esiri, Reuters
Nigeria qualified for next year's World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea with a 3-0 defeat on Sunday of arch-rivals Ghana.

The victory gave Nigeria 16 points, one point more than Liberia, and clinched Group B's sole ticket at the end of the round-robin matches.

It is the third time in succession that Nigeria have reached the finals. Two goals from winger Tijjani Babangida plus striker Victor Agali's header in the first minute of the match secured the Nigerians their triumph.

The Ghanaians, without some of their key players, were overwhelmed by the firepower of the Nigerians, who were recording their first win over their bitter rivals since 1984.

Ghana had two clear chances in the second half but Nigerian goalkeeper Ike Shorounmu saved a point-blank shot from striker Isaac Boagye, while substitute Fatai Mohammed's low shot hit the post.

Shortly before halftime Tunisian referee Guirat Hichem had sent off Ghana's goalkeeper Ossei Boateng for handling the ball outside the area and hacking down Agali.

Plan Worked "We were determined to get all our goals in the first half and the game plan worked for us," said Agali during the team's post-match celebration as the champagne corks popped.

Babangida, with tears in his eyes, added: "I'm so thrilled that my goals helped Nigeria to qualify." Coach Fred Osam-Duodu acknowledged the quality of the Nigerian players and was gracious in defeat.

"My boys were defeated by a better team and I can't complain," he said. "With the way they play against us, they showed they're worthy to qualify."

He felt Boateng's red card demoralised the team. "All right, he touched the ball outside the box but I think the referee's decision was harsh on him. And that took the sting out of the boys."

The victory means that for the first time a Nigerian coach has taken the national team to the World Cup finals.

Following the sacking in April of former coach Dutchman Jo Bonfrere, his assistant Amodu Shaibu was installed in his place and mandated to get the team to the finals.

Shaibu said: "The coaching crew believed in the boys that we could make real our World Cup qualification dreams. I'm delighted that my efforts and that of the boys jointly helped to achieve this goal."

The Nigerians join fellow Africans Cameroon, Senegal, Tunisia and South Africa in the finals.

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