Football analysts have warned that handlers of the Super Eagles not to see the Brazil 2014 playoffs draw with Ethiopia’s Walia Antelopes as an easy pairing because the team is one of the giant killers in Africa
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Sep. 30, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
THE road to the 2014 FIFA World Cup is now clear for the Super Eagles. The team is set to confront Ethiopia in a two-legged playoff to qualify for the Brazil showpiece. The draw for the playoff round qualifiers in the African zone was held by the Confederation of African Football, CAF, at its headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, on September 16. The 10 countries will play a two-legged match to determine the five teams that will represent the continent in Brazil come 2014.
In the other pairings, Ivory Coast will face Senegal; Tunisia will confront Cameroon; Ghana will confront Egypt, while Burkina Faso will square up with Algeria. The matches are scheduled to be played between October 11 and 15, for first leg and between and November 15 and 19, for the second leg.
History favours the Super Eagles to fly above the Walia Antelopes as the Ethiopian national team is called. Both countries have met seven times with Nigeria winning on four occasions. The last time out was at the Africa Cup of Nations early this year in South Africa. Two penalty kicks taken by Victor Moses separated them at the group match. Two other meetings ended in draws, while the Ethiopians’ famous 1-0 win came on April 11, 1993, in a 1994 Africa Cup of Nations. That win remains the only goal Ethiopia has scored against Nigeria since their first meeting in 1982.
The evidence of the recent Cup of Nations suggests that Nigeria should be able to overcome its World Cup qualification rivals. The record books showed that the Super Eagles truly kicked off their Afcon campaign with that 2-0 victory over the Walia Antelopes in Rustenburg. However, the Super Eagles should be wary about the prospect of taking on Ethiopia. If Nigeria underestimates Ethiopia then, the African champions will miss out in Brazil next summer.
Along with Cape Verde, Ethiopia is Africa’s giant killer. The country took four points from South Africa in the World Cup group stage, drawing away on its return to Rustenburg and then securing a 2-1 victory in Addis earlier in June. A year ago, the Antelopes secured an unlikely spot in the Cup of Nations by overcoming Sudan. Despite losing the first leg in Khartoum 5-3, the Walias showed tremendous character and resilience to keep a clean sheet at home and scored the required two goals.
Nigeria needs to be aware of Ethiopia’s immense desire, unity and doggedness. It may be naive at times, but the squad is acutely aware that for many (if not all) of them, the World Cup and the promise it brings, will never be closer than now. Nigeria should not also forget that a 2-0 victory over the Walias back in January didn’t come easily. It took 80 minutes for Nigeria to break down a massed Ethiopian defence and even then, the goal only came from a moment of inspiration from Victor Moses, and a coolly converted penalty.
Ethiopia and Burkina Faso are the only side not to have played at the World Cup finals and will have their work cut out if they are to make their debut in Brazil. Sewnet Bishaw, Ethiopian coach, told Cafonline.com after the draw that he is looking forward to the two matches against African champions, Nigeria. “I think it’s a good draw and we will give it a good go against Nigeria whom we have played before. At this stage, you cannot have preferred opponents because this is the end of the qualifiers and all sides left are good, so yes, I am happy with the draw and I can tell you that Nigeria will meet a different Ethiopia from the one it played against during Afcon 2013,” he said.
Reacting to the draws, Musa Amadu, general secretary, Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, said Ethiopia is the best the Super Eagles can get in the list of possible opponents that included football superpowers like Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal and Burkina Faso. He said the NFF knew Nigeria would get a favourable draw against either Ethiopia or Senegal, stressing, that playing against Senegal would have been the best for the Super Eagles, considering the fact that the Senegalese are still playing their home matches in far away Morocco following the ban on its home turf by FIFA.
“Our chance to be at the World Cup in Brazil is very bright. Ethiopia is the best we can get. I don’t think we could have a better draw. Ethiopia is the lowest ranked country among teams in the qualifiers; it is ranked 25 in Africa and 95 in the world. It is the best we can get compared to Ghana versus Egypt which is the toughest draw or Cote d’Ivoire versus Senegal, Algeria versus Burkina Faso or Tunisia versus Cameroon,” he said.
Ethiopia will welcome Nigeria in Addis Ababa in October and Stephen Keshi, Super Eagles coach, ought not to take the encounter lightly. Football history is riddled with examples of complacent giants humiliated, undermined and cast aside by brave minnows. Ethiopia ought not to be misidentified under the ‘underdogs’ tag, but any complacency on Nigeria’s behalf, and Brazil will remain little more than a distant dream.