Posted by Adegbenro Adebanjo | 10 October 2013 | 3,854 times
The die is cast. And the hopes of millions of compatriots who follow football with dizzying passion now rest squarely on the shoulders of 22 players whose deeds on the green turf of the National Stadium, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Sunday, October 13, 2013, will determine what may eventually become of the aspiration of Nigeria and Ethiopia to emerge as one of Africa’s five representatives when the World Cup opens in Samba land in 2014. Of course, the War in Ethiopia will be followed by the second leg showdown in Nigeria in November. But then the outcome of the match in Addis Ababa will impact significantly on the second leg and the final outcome of the last qualifying match.
Were this to be a marathon race we would have called it in favour of the Ethiopians whose sons and daughters have shown repeatedly that when it comes to long distance races they are a veritable force to be reckoned with. This is football. And if not for its unpredictability we would also have called the game against Ethiopia in favour of Nigeria. Nigeria has proven time and time again that it is a blessed and gifted country when it comes to the round leather game. The likes of Thunder Balogun, Segun Odegbami, Kanu Nwakwo, Austin J.J Okocha, Daniel Amokachie, Tarila Okorowanta, Samson Siasia, late Muda Lawal, Peter Rufai and even the Eagles current head coach, Stephen Keshi had through the years established Nigeria as a leading light in the game of football. The country also has many laurels to show for its accomplishments. Three African Cup of Nations trophies, One Olympic Football Gold medal, three Under-17 world cup and countless diadems at the regional sub regional and ladies tournaments and championship.
Yet we cannot say it’s a done deal. For one the Ethiopians are going to give their all to the game and they may have the psychological edge because they are approaching the game with all the seriousness it deserves. I also foresee some psychological war against the Eagles in Addis Ababa. The Ethiopians’ game plan is to win on home soil and frustrate Nigeria during the return leg. One of the people who should know that the task at hand is a difficult one is the mercurial Kanu Nwakwo whose exploits with the round leather game remains a tale of legend. He said the game in Addis Ababa will be tough and that Nigeria needs luck and prayers.
The Walya Antelopes as the Ethiopians are called say they will not allow the Super Eagles to rubbish them in their own backyard. Their playmaker, Menyahil Teshome, believes that a victory against the African Champion is possible at the Addis Ababa National Stadium. He said that the Eagles will get a tough match and the past losses to the Eagles will count for nothing when the battle-line is joined on Sunday. Coach Bishaw Senet on his part has said the Eagles would have themselves to blame if they take victory for granted. The Ethiopian Coach says he is already dreaming of playing in the World Cup finals in Brazil.
So in spite of the brimming over confidence by many Nigerian fans and the glaring disparity between both countries when it comes to accomplishments in the round leather game, Sunday’s match will be a difficult assignment for the Eagles. It will not be a stroll in the park as being predicted by many incurable optimists. The Ethiopians are not called Antelopes for nothing. They have pace and have perfected the art of outpacing their opponents in the field of play. The Antelopes will be a very hard nut to crack. They will swoop on the Eagles from all corners and angles. They will use their fast pace and the difficult altitude of their land of birth to full advantage. Their strategy, I suspect, is to tire out the Eagles and then go in for the kill. What is more they will be urged on by thousands of their countrymen who are thirsty for their historical first ever world cup action. The players are hungry for victory.
Luckily for Nigeria, the man calling the shot in the Eagles is not taking anything for granted. And more importantly Stephen Keshi is not playing to the gallery and has not joined the chorus of Ethiopians are minnows brigade. Keshi has maintained that the Addis Ababa encounter is a major test for Nigeria and only players with the right character and attitude will be given the shirt on D-day. A must-win strategy must be devised by the technical crew. The Eagles must force the Antelopes to abandon their game plan. Whatever strategy Keshi and the technical crew devise it must be such that will contain the rampaging antelopes. The Eagles must fashion out a strategy that will see them dictating the pace and tempo of the game from the start. They must throw everything into the battle and play for the full duration of the match. Any loss of concentration can be costly with devastating consequences. They should avoid hard tackles in critical areas and unnecessary argument with match officials even when protesting any bad call. They must stay focused from the first blast of the whistle to the time the Cameroonian referee blows the final whistle to signal end of the first leg hostilities.
Victor Moses has cheering news for Nigerians on the battle of Addis Ababa. “We are ready for the battle in Addis Ababa. It’s going to be a tough match because we will be playing them at home but our target is to get a good result over there to make the return leg a simple task,” the Liverpool ace said. However, more than their famed skill and perceived superiority over the Antelopes what will give Eagles victory on Sunday is teamwork, determination and a sense of mission.
And we certainly need this victory since it will provide succour and something to cheer for a beleaguered country in this season of pervading gloom.
•Adebanjo, former Sports Editor of TELL Magazine, writes from the Federal University of Technology, Akure. Photo shows action from a previous match involving the Super Eagles and the Walya Antelopes.
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