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AT ONE stage on Saturday a prediction by Brazil football legend Pele that Nigeria could reach the 2010 World Cup semifinals in South Africa seemed far off the mark.
The Super Eagles were not living up to their nickname as they trailed modest Kenya 1-0 in Nairobi, while Group B leaders Tunisia had battened down the hatches in Maputo to keep Mozambique goalless.
It meant Tunisia were three points clear of Nigeria and the Carthage Eagles must have been dreaming of a fourth consecutive appearance at the quadrennial showcase of international football next June and July.
But just when the already poor reputation Pele has for predictions seemed set to receive another jolt, Nigeria scored twice in four minutes to turn the game on its head and went on to triumph 3-2 and qualify as Tunisia lost.
Striker Obafemi Martins chose the perfect time to rediscover his scoring touch by netting a brace, including the 83rd-minute winner in Nairobi.
So Pele, who believed an African team would conquer the world before the end of the last century, may yet be right in his view that the Eagles can go further than quarterfinalists Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal 12 years later.
But the most populous country in Africa almost blew the chance of a fourth World Cup appearance by allowing the Harambee Stars to equalise 11 minutes from full time.
Martins, from German champions Wolfsburg, rescued his teammates again to give Nigeria top place with 12 points, one more than Tunisia, while Mozambique came third and Kenya last.
Tunisia paid dearly for a hyper-cautious approach with veteran striker Dario Monteiro scoring the lone goal for Mozambique seven minutes from time. - Sapa