The African champions, Nigeria, look close to reaching a fifth Fifa World Cup finals after winning the first leg of this playoff against Ethiopia in Addis Ababa by 2-1 in spite of concerns over weather. Nigeria’s Super Eagles have created a soft-landing for themselves ahead of the second leg clash in Calabar this Saturday and it is now the Ethiopians who have everything to play for.
It is going to be a tough ask for the Ethiopians to upset the applecart and go on to win in Calabar where their East African rivals, Kenya, where close to winning during one of the World Cup qualifying games in March this year but for Nnamdi Oduamadi’s late strike.
The Walias will definitely fancy their chances of taking a pop at the Super Eagles just as their East African neighbours did on March 23. But they are just one leg away from a first World Cup appearance should they beat Nigeria in Calabar by at least 2-0 or any other two-goal margin.
World Cup history
Talking of their World Cup history, the Ethiopians have none at the finals proper except at qualifying level. The Walya Antelopes have never qualified for the World Cup finals and this is their closest attempt at a first appearance.
Sewnet Bishaw’s men ruffled feathers in the ongoing qualification by finishing top of Group A ahead of South Africa, Botswana and Central African Republic in the second round after they were ducked three points and three goals for fielding an ineligible player against Bostwana in Lobatse in June.
On the other hand, the Super Eagles have made four previous appearances at the Mundial in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2010. The Nigerians are now close to a fifth appearance.
It looks clear that Nigeria are favourites to nick the World Cup spot ahead of Ethiopia after winning the first clash of the two-legged playoff.
Nigeria have a domineering record against the Ethiopia in head-to-head. In 10 previous matches, Nigeria have defeated Ethiopia eight times and lost once while the only draw between both nations was a 2-2 outcome in June 2012 in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying game in Addis Ababa.
The Super Eagles have scored 24 goals against Ethiopia and conceded five since their first known meeting in 1968 when Nigeria won 3-1 in an Olympic qualifier.
Ethiopia’s only win against the Nigerians was a 1-0 win in Addis Ababa in 1993 in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier before they were made to suffer their biggest loss of 6-0 at the National Stadium in Lagos in the return leg.
This Saturday, both teams will meet for the 11th time and it will be a decisive clash to determine who win the World Cup spot with players in both sides raring to go.
Nigeria will be without the duo of Nosa Igiebor and Uche Nwofor who are both injured. Their head coach, Stephen Keshi, has called up FC Toronto forward, Bright Dike to take up Nwofor’s place. The Nigerian manager has continued to stick to a large number of the squad from the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations including recalling the duo of Kenneth Omeruo and Gabriel Reuben.
The Ethiopians have 21-year-old Bidvest Wits striker, Getaneh Kebede back for the Calabar leg of this playoff after he missed the game in Addis Ababa owing to a knee injury.
Players to watch
Kebede is one of the standout players for Ethiopia in the 2014 World Cup qualification. The striker has scored against Botswana and South Africa. But Salhadin Said remains Ethiopia’s biggest threat on the offence. The 25-year-old has scored four goals in the qualification for the Mundial against South Africa and Central African Republic.
But they will come up against a Nigerian squad filled with quality from defence to attack. The Ethiopians will definitely keep tabs on Emmanuel Emenike, who scored Nigeria’s goals in Addis Ababa in the reverse game. The Fenerbahce man is Nigeria’s leading scorer this year in international matches having netted eight goals while Godfrey Oboabona has featured in 18 of the Super Eagles’ 20 matches in 2013.
However, it is Liverpool man, Victor Moses, who has brought spark into the Super Eagles style with his dribble runs as a wide man.
What they are saying
Despite the odds stacked against them. Walias defender, Abebaw Butako, believes they can “upset the form book in Nigeria.”
“We might have lost to Nigeria at home but I always believe with hard work and God on our side we can upset the form book in Nigeria as nothing is impossible,” the St. Geroge defender told supersport.com.
Keshi is not putting any pressure on his troops ahead of the clash. The Nigerian manager believes his men know what is at stake.
“I don’t have to tell them how important this game is to their careers and the country. So there is no pressure on them as we want them to finish the good job they started,” Keshi said to supersport.com.
Nigeria are overwhelming favourites ahead of this contest. Definitely the African champions will finish off the Ethiopians in Calabar this Saturday and book their place at the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil.
The Nigeria versus Ethiopia match is live in High Definition on SuperSport as well as on SuperSport 3 and Select from 3.30pm CAT this Saturday.