CELTIC’S Efe Ambrose is heading to the World Cup in Brazil after a penalty from Victor Moses and a sweetly struck free kick from Victor Obinna ensured Nigeria became the first African country to qualify for next year’s finals after beating Ethiopia 4-1 on aggregate in their play-off tie.
Ambrose played in the 2-0 home win in the second leg in Calabar yesterday, which means the reigning African champions have reached the finals for the fifth time, having played in four of the past five tournaments.
Moses tucked the spot kick away in the 20th minute, while Obinna provided a rare piece of magic during a dull game, curling home a free kick eight minutes from time soon after coming on as a substitute.
Nigeria were runaway favourites to finish the job after winning in Addis Ababa in last month’s first leg, but they were largely uninspiring.
Perhaps that was because their progress to Brazil was never seriously in doubt after Ethiopia defender Aynalem Hailu was harshly adjudged to have handled in the penalty area as he took a shot in his midriff, but could do nothing to prevent it running up his outstretched arm.
Hailu will want to forget the tie as soon as he can, as he also gave away the penalty at the conclusion of the first leg which initially tipped the tie Nigeria’s way.
Moses sent Ethiopia keeper Sisay Bancha the wrong way to the delight of the home crowd, who were drenched by a tropical storm in the second half, but still celebrated with some passion after the final whistle.
Obinna, recently recalled to the squad, strengthened his claim for a place in the finals with a rasping effort that gave Bancha no chance.
Emmanuel Emenike, who scored both goals in the first leg, should have put Nigeria head in the sixth minute as Ethiopia’s defence failed to clear a long throw, which bounced to Emenike at the back post.
Off balance as he struck, Bancha turned it round the post with a fine one-handed save.
Brown Ideye headed wide at the back post in the 31st minute, again given time and space by a visiting defence caught ball-watching.
Ogenyi Onanzi produced a fine diving save out of Bancha as half-time approached with a long-range shot delivered with some power.
An increasingly desperate Ethiopia had two penalty appeals turned down early in the second half, but never managed to produce a decent goal scoring chance.
Another four African play-off ties will be decided over the next four days.