By EMMA NJOKU
Ex-international and one-time Africa’s best goalkeeper, Emmanuel Okala, MON, has advanced why Nigeria should not treat the forthcoming Africa Nations Cup qualifying match against Ethiopia with kids’ gloves.
Although the Super Eagles won the first leg at the Abuja National Stadium 3–0, the former Enugu Rangers safest hands said that next month’s reverse fixture in Ethiopia would be a different ballgame, as he predicted that the Super Eagles would find the East Africans a very hard nut to crack on their high altitude home soil.
Guinea tops Group B with six points having won her first two matches against Ethiopia and Nigeria. The next month’s game, billed for Addis Ababa, is, therefore, a must-win for the Samson Siasia-tutored Super Eagles if Nigeria must retain the hope of snatching the sole ticket for next year’s Nations Cup after the last group qualifier against Guinea, which Nigeria must also win.
“The reverse fixture of the Africa Nations Cup qualifying match against Ethiopia would be difficult for Nigeria,” Okala predicted in a recent interview with Saturday Sunsports in Enugu. “Don’t forget that the match would be played on a high altitude, which, in common language and understanding, means that the Ethiopians would not wear out easily during the encounter.”
“They (Ethiopians), obviously, would be stronger than our players because they are used to the high altitude. It would be very difficult for our players, who are largely based in Europe, to play in Ethiopia except they go there on time to acclimatise with the weather.”
He went on: “Besides, we have cause to worry about the match, because every country’s team has been improving in standard and Ethiopia is not an exception. So, we should expect stiff opposition when we visit them.”
Okala suggested that foreign-based players should be blended with the players in the domestic league to raise a formidable squad that can tame the Ethiopian side.
“The coaches should blend foreign-based players with the ones in the domestic league to face the Ethiopians squarely. We cannot depend entirely on the foreign-based players, especially whenever we are playing against an African team with more of its players plying their trade on the continent.
“The advantage the foreign-based players have is that they have better training facilities abroad. The foreign-based ones may be more in number in the team, but there should be some home-based players in the line up that will face Ethiopia. Our home-based players should be introduced into the national team gradually,” Okala suggested.
He gave kudos to the goalkeepers in the Eagles’ squad at the moment, but voted Vincent Enyeama as Nigeria’s best.
“All the goalkeepers in the Super Eagles at the moment are doing well, but Vincent Enyeama remains Nigeria’s best keeper for now. I’m happy that he won the Best Player of the Year Award at the AIT Awards this year. It’s a clear testimony that he is truly Nigeria’s current No.1 keeper.
“I hope that award will encourage other goalkeepers to also work very hard so that it could be their turn to win the award one day,” Okala reasoned.