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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Nigeria's road to the finals
Tijani Babangida in action against South Africa
Babangida scored twice against Ghana in Port Harcourt
BBC Sport Online reflects on Nigeria's close and controversial route to the finals.

For a nation widely regarded as one of Africa's finest, Nigeria's route to the Far East was far from assured.

In fact, its football-infatuated population and diaspora had to rely on neighbours Ghana to secure their passage to Korea and Japan.

Qualifying campaign
W 2-0 Sierra Leone (h)
L 1-2 Liberia (a)
W 3-0 Sudan (h)
D 0-0 Ghana (a)
L 0-1 Sierra Leone (a)
W 2-0 Liberia (h)
W 4-0 Sudan (a)
W 3-0 Ghana (h)

The Ghanaians pulled off a surprise 2-1 victory over group leaders Liberia in Paynesville in July.

That result meant the Super Eagles would claim the one, and only, qualifying slot in CAF Group B, but only if they beat Ghana on 29 July.

Despite the agonising wait, the celebrations began in earnest when the final whistle was blown in Port Harcourt - a 3-0 victory with two goals from Tijani Babangida and one from Victor Agali.

However, controversy soon followed when Liberia, who missed out on qualification by a single point, accused the Nigerians of offering a $25,000 "bribe" to the Ghanaian team.

A Fifa disciplinary panel cleared both Nigeria and Ghana of any wrongdoing in November 2001 - much to the relief of the Nigerian authorities.

But it should have been so different for Nigeria, who impressed many with their accomplished performances at the 1994 and 1998 World Cup finals.

A 2-1 defeat in Monrovia to George Weah's Liberia in July 2000 was not the ideal way for manager Amodu Shaibu to begin his World Cup preparations.

But, eight months later, worse was to follow when his side were on the receiving end of a shock 1-0 defeat to unfancied Sierra Leone in Freetown.

Victor Agali controls the ball against Japan
Victor Agali: Scored four times in Group B

Not what the success-hungry Nigerian public were expecting. But it was the motivation the Super Eagles' star-studded line-up needed to improve their individual performances.

The likes of Jay Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Sunday Oliseh and Victor Agali, among the many Nigerians who ply their trade in Europe, began to impose their authority.

Victories over Nigeria and Sudan followed before the decisive win over Ghana - cue national celebrations.

This time, the Super Eagles will be hoping to improve on their second stage appearances from 1994 and 1998.

And if their abundant talent is anything to go by, a place in the last four could be a realistic possibility.

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GROUP F
  P GD PTS
SWEDEN 3 +1 5
ENGLAND 3 +1 5
ARGENTINA 3 0 4
NIGERIA 3 -2 1

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