Nigeria claimed third place at the African Nations Championship with a 1-0 victory over Zimbabwe in an entertaining play-off game at the Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town.
Christian Obiozor headed home Nigeria’s winner with five minutes left to play as the Warriors’ defence failed to clear substitute Ejike Uzoenyi’s cross.
The ill-tempered game saw the Super Eagles, whose wings were clipped against the Black Stars of Ghana in the semi final, began the game with the intent of getting the early goal by dominating possession right from the referee’s blast of the whistle while the Zimbabweans seemed content to sit back in defence.
Stephen Keshi’s men had the first chance at goal in the fifth minute as Abubakar Ibrahim raced down the right side of the Warriors’ defence but Christian Pyagbara failed to score from 10 yards as the opponents failed to clear their line.
Few minutes later, Zimbabwe grew in confidence and almost got the lead. Mahachi profited from a counter-attack, ran down the right, crossed to the near post but there weren’t players in the penalty area to take advantage.
However, the biggest highlight came in the 16th minute as Zimbabwe’s Mambare was sent off for a dangerous play. The Warriors’ striker failed in his attempt to connect to a flighted ball and instead hit Chigozie Agbim in the chest with his foot raised high.
Even with this numerical disadvantage, Nigeria failed to break down the defence of their opponents as Ian Gorowa’s men looked rock solid at the rear coupled with great goalkeeping skills by goalkeeper Chigova.
The West Africans continued in the ascendancy, and were somehow kept out by a supreme double save from Chigova. Abdullahi Shehu capitalised on a neat pass to launch a stinging effort at the Zimbabwe captain, who produced a world-class stop to keep the Warriors in the game.
On resumption of the second half, the Eagles continued to dominate but could still not break the deadlock.
The introduction of Uzoenyi for injured Benjamin Francis in the 54th minute was a wise one as the petite forward threatened the Zimbabwean defence times without count.
However, Zimbabwe were not content to sit back as they came on the counter attack through Sithole who sped away down the left but his effort was poor and went wide of the target.
Solomon Kwambe’s free-kick in the 64th was a good one but went just past goalkeeper Chigova scrambling across the net.
While it looked the game would head for extra time, Obiozor headed home the winner that separated both teams. The Rangers of Enugu player who made his debut in the competition made no mistake in heading home a pinpoint cross from Uzoenyi with about five minutes left to play.