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Iwobi fires Nigeria to Africa’s first 2018 World Cup berth

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Nigeria is the first team from Africa to qualify for the World Cup, doing it with a game to spare after beating Zambia 1-0 at home on Saturday.

The victory, clinched by Arsenal forward (and substitute) Alex Iwobi‘s goal with 17 minutes to go, ensured Nigeria will win Group B and qualify for its fifth World Cup out of the last six.

Only the five group winners qualify from Africa.

Tunisia could become the second team through later on Saturday, and Egypt can seal its place on Sunday.

The remaining two groups will go down to the wire, and the last games next month, in a tight qualifying race on the continent.

Tammy Abraham expected to make international switch to Nigeria

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Tammy Abraham has a bright future in the Premier League, but the on-loan Chelsea striker appears that he won’t be playing his international soccer for the country in which he currently plays.

[ MORE: Spurs land Hammers in League Cup draw; Chelsea faces Everton ]

The 19-year-old is expected to announce that he’ll play for Nigeria — the country of his father’s birth — after having represented England at various youth levels since 2014.

Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick has made it clear that he believes Abraham will represent the Super Eagles at next summer’s World Cup in Russia, assuming Nigeria qualifies for the competition.

“I had a very honest and productive discussion with Tammy and his father last week,” said Pinnick.

“It’s been a long process but I can tell you authoritatively that he has agreed to play for Nigeria and not England. He and his parents have started the necessary documents to effect the switch.

“Clearly he understands he stands a better chance playing for the Super Eagles. With his talent he has the ability to fight for a place in the Nigeria squad, by God’s grace we make it to Russia, then he would contest for a chance to represent his fatherland.”

Nigeria currently leads its CAF World Cup qualifying group in the final round of African qualification, and a victory over Zambia on October 7 would ensure the country’s place in Russia next summer.

[ MORE: Pulisic stars, scores a goal in BVB’s latest Bundesliga win ]

The Super Eagles have a number of players Abraham is familiar with, given their connection to Chelsea, including Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel, youngster Ola Aina and current Blues wing back Victor Moses.

2018 World Cup Power Rankings — 10 months B.W.C.

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Can Germany become the first nation since Brazil (1958 and 1962) to repeat as World Cup winners? Can the Brazilians exorcise their demons of 7-1? Has the next wave of Spanish brilliance/impending dominance arrived?

Will Italy contend again after failing to advance from the group stage two tournaments in a row? Can one of the up-and-comers — Belgium, Colombia, Portugal or England — make good on years (decades, in England’s case) of promise and potential? What are the U.S. national team’s chances, assuming they manage to qualify?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2018 World Cup coverage | USMNT | Premier League ]

These are just a handful of the questions at the forefront of so many folks’ minds, as we now sit just over 10 months from the start of the 2018 World Cup. Beginning today (10 months B.W.C.), and following every international break leading up to next summer’s tournament in Russia, the PST staff will be keeping tabs on these stories, and more, in our World Cup Power Rankings.

According to our esteemed panelists — Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendola, Kyle Bonn, Matt Reed, Dan Karell and yours truly — there are five or six sides with a genuine shot at being crowned world champions in July. As always, if you disagree with the final results, feel free to shout at all of the above, except me, on Twitter (links above).

Team Points Best Worst
Germany 116 1 3
Brazil 115 1 2
France 106 2 4
Spain 105 1 5
Belgium 91 4 10
Colombia 84 6 9
Italy 75 5 16
Portugal 72 5 16
Uruguay 71 7 11
Switzerland 61 9 13
Mexico 54 10 16
England 52 9 15
Nigeria 33 12 NR
Chile 33 7 NR
Costa Rica 23 14 NR
Japan 20 9 NR
Ivory Coast 16 14 NR
Peru 16 13 NR
Poland 12 12 NR
South Korea 9 16 NR

As you’ve probably already noticed, the USMNT didn’t make the final top-20 list. Here’s everyone’s thoughts on the USMNT, and where they slot in among 2018 hopefuls:

JPW: USA rank — 30th. The last international break summed up just how much work needs to be done between now and next summer if the USMNT qualifies for the World Cup. Getting out of the group stage would seem like a big achievement as things stand.

NM: USA rank — 25th. The U.S. entered September ranked 30th in ELO, and 26th by FIFA, though not every team in front of them will be going to Russia, either. If I project a 32-team field, placing the U.S. with a seeded team, a European team, and probably an African side or South American side (The U.S. has been in a pot with Asian sides the last two draws), it’s not good. In most scenarios, barring hosts Russia being in the U.S. group, I’d expect this current bunch to fail to reach the group stage. Of the teams who may make the field, I’d put U.S. hopes ahead of most of the Asian sides, one or two European sides, and another couple of African qualifiers.

KB: The United States is currently ranked 26th in FIFA, and that’s with a Gold Cup win that included a number of B squads. I would not put this current US team anywhere near the Top 20 until it shows it can win consistently against even mid-level sides like Honduras or Panama.

AE: USA rank — 22nd. Once you move past the top five or so sides — you know, the ones that actually have a chance of winning the World Cup — everyone is fatally flawed in any number of ways. The USMNT is no different than the rest of these, but with one favorable exception: 14 of the 23 players on the most recent roster have World Cup experience, with the majority of those having been to multiple finals tournaments. If/when they qualify, they’ll leapfrog a half-dozen other sides without that experience, making them a fringe Round of 16 side, if they get there.

MR: USA rank — 25th. Let’s face it. It’s been a difficult week for the USMNT, and while the squad is still very much in the running for a trip to Russia next summer Bruce Arena and Co. are crawling into the World Cup at this point. Solely judging this team off of what I believe they can be versus what they are right now, I’d say the U.S. can and should be a top 20 team heading into 2018, however, watching these last two matches have reiterated several of my previous concerns, especially in the central midfield. I’d put the U.S. somewhere around 25 in the field of 32 World Cup teams, assuming a bid to Russia is in the cards.

DK: USA rank — 19th. I had the USA in No. 19 because I actually am taking a more positive look at the draw in Honduras. The USA lost this game in the last World Cup cycle under Klinsmann and coming back on the road in the Honduran heat in a World Cup qualifier with everything on the line takes guts and determination. Just as the fortunes turned with the famed “snow game” in Denver against Costa Rica, perhaps this could be a moment like that for this USMNT team that basically needs to win out to ensure safe passage to the World Cup

Iheanacho to Leicester on; Man City to hold $66m buyback clause

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One of the annoyances with the very public transfer process is that even when moves make sense, we have to wait for their natural conclusion.

Kelechi Iheanacho is a super talented prospect and almost certain to be a regular producer in the Premier League or another top league in Europe, but right now he’s simply not going to get regular run ahead of Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus.

[ MORE: How much has each PL club spent? ] 

So when Leicester City came calling, the move made sense for everyone if Manchester City could seal the deal with a buyback clause. And the Foxes sure would’ve liked to make that a big number, which The Telegraph reports is $66 million.

As Andy Edwards pointed out Sunday, this very public process took the next step with Pep Guardiola assuming Iheanacho was headed to the King Power Stadium.

We knew a buyback clause was coming, and right now $66 million looks like a doozy. Whether that figure will be a doozy by the end of the deal is another story altogether given the rising transfer costs for strikers. If Iheanacho ever produces at a level which would make Man City want to buy him back — say: 20 league goals — then he’d likely command $70-90 million in today’s climate.

That fee is twice what Leicester will reportedly pay for Iheanacho, who will reportedly and finally be announced as a $33 million buy in the next couple days.

Iheanacho has 21 goals in 64 appearances despite being just 20 years old, and 12 of those goals have come in the Premier League.

He also has six goals in 10 senior international caps for Nigeria, and will form a potent pair with Jamie Vardy in what should be a smart investment for Craig Shakespeare‘s Foxes..

Leicester City “close” to signing Iheanacho from Man City

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Kelechi Iheanacho‘s destination may have been whittled down for him.

Big, fast, and young (20), Manchester City’s Iheanacho had been tipped for moves to West Ham United, Crystal Palace, and Leicester City amongst other locations this summer.

He carries a steep asking price, reportedly $32.4 million, and Sky Sports is reporting that the Hammers have dropped out of the running for his services.

[ MORE: Germany tops FIFA rankings ]

The same report says Leicester City now leads the race for Iheanacho and in fact is “close” to acquiring the striker, who has 21 goals in 64 appearances despite his tender age. Twelve of those goals have come in the Premier League.

That strike rate and immense potential will likely put a buyback clause in any deal for the Nigerian, and the Leicester Mercury says it will be for his transfer fee plus approximately $13 million.

He also has six goals in 10 senior international caps, which begs the question of why striker-hungry West Ham would bow out of the bidding (unless there’s a better man coming to the London Stadium, or they want nothing to do with a buyback clause).

Leicester added Sevilla’s Vicente Iborra earlier this week.