The Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia go head-to-head this weekend as both teams battle in the ultimate round of qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The Ethiopians have a mountain to climb in this second leg clash as Nigeria won the first leg 2-1 in Ethiopia and have home advantage this time.
The Nigerians are currently ranked 33rd on the world stage and 4th in Africa, while the Walya Antelopes are a distant 95th in the FIFA World rankings and 25th in Africa – the lowest ranked team of all remaining 10 teams fighting for a place in Brazil next year. Qualification would mean a fifth tournament appearance for Nigeria, while for Ethiopia the finals in Brazil would represent a journey into unchartered territory.
Emmanuel Emenike was the hero of the day as Nigeria picked up the vital 2-1 win against Ethiopia in Addis Ababa in the first leg play-off last month. The Fenerbahce striker was first on target in the 67th minute to equalise a goal scored ten minutes earlier by Ethiopia’s midfielder Behailu Assefa. He then got the winner, converting from the spot in the 90th minute after he was brought down to win the penalty. Stephen Keshi’s side went unbeaten in the group stage of qualifying, topping Group F by five points after winning three and drawing three of their six games. They conceded just three goals scoring seven.
Defender Solomon Kwambe believes the morale-boosting triumph in February’s AFCON will give his side the edge as they look to now show their metal on the biggest stage in Brazil next year. Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi has replaced Heerenveen striker Uche Nwofor with Toronto FC forward Bright Dike in his squad for this clash as well as their fixture against Italy on Tuesday at Craven Cottage, London. Dike, who first received a national call-up last year and scored a fabulous goal in a high-profile friendly against Catalonia in Barcelona in January, missed the cut for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations that Nigeria won in South Africa.
“We are bringing him into the squad because we know what he is capable of doing and we believe he is fully fit to deliver,” Keshi said. Another two additions to the squad from the first leg win are Kenneth Omeruo from Chelsea and Gabriel Reuben from Kilmarnock in Scotland. Both players have been out of the squad on account of long-term injuries. Keshi’s two star players John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses are fit and will need to perform from the first whistle to allow Nigeria to control the tempo of the match.
Ethiopia are considered an emerging force in African football, as they qualified for the last Africa Cup of Nations after a 31-year absence and finished top of their World Cup qualifying group ahead of South Africa, despite being docked three points for fielding an ineligible player. Ethiopia won four of their six matches, surviving a late scare in the final game, coming from behind to beat Central African Republic 2-1 when defeat would have seen them overtaken at the top of the group by Bafana Bafana.
Walia’s all time goalscorer Salhadin Said who plays in Belgium for Lierse is upbeat ahead of their crucial return match. However, he says he still remembers about his ‘goal’ that was denied by the referee after the ball crossed the line in the first leg stating it was one of his worst moments in football. Despite the disappointment, Salhadin is delighted to welcome his striking partner Getaneh Kebede of Bidvest Wits who has been given a clean bill of health and is expected to start in Calabar. All but five of the Ethiopian squad ply their trade in the local league.
Ethiopia were unlucky to lose the first leg. They are a difficult team to beat as Nigeria have learnt. It took two late penalties from Victor Moses to beat Ethiopia in the AFCON at the beginning of the year. The Super Eagles have been struggling to gel in attack as recent matches have been low scoring affairs. Ethiopia will be pumped up for this match and won’t make things easy for the African champions. The draw is tipped.