Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Nigeria versus Super Eagles

THE WISE SAYING, “Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it” became a truism for Nigeria on Monday, September 16, 2013 when the draw was held in Cairo, Egypt for the final play-offs of the African zone 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

A poll of Complete Sports readers last week showed overwhelmingly that most Nigerian soccer fans preferred Ethiopia as the Super Eagles play-off opponents. Even Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) secretary general Musa Amadu told Complete Sports correspondent Richard Jideaka that he wanted Ethiopia because we can “go out and muscle them.” Well, now that our wish has been granted, we are condemned to win and qualify for Brazil. We can’t give any excuses. No story!

Indeed, Nigeria has absolutely no reason to fail because the odds are stacked in our favour. Not even our opponents, Ethiopia, can stop us unless we stopped ourselves. Effectively, therefore, our World Cup play-off is Nigeria versus Super Eagles!

I followed the initial reactions to the draw on social media especially Twitter. Nigerians are divided on whether we should start celebrating our World Cup ticket or be wary of Ethiopia. While the first group are confident that Ethiopia will be a walkover, the second group fear Ethiopia could be dangerous. What is not in contention, however, is that Nigeria got a lucky draw. Amongst all the 10 teams that went into the pot, Ethiopia, at number 93, are the lowest ranked team in the latest FIFA monthly world rankings released just before the draw.
Statistically, therefore, the Super Eagles couldn’t have asked for a weaker opponent. They got the weakest opponent already.

That does not suggest, however, that Ethiopia will be a walk-over. Let us consider the following facts about the Walya Antelopes.

1. In seven previous encounters, Ethiopia have beaten Nigeria once. The game was a 1994 Nations Cup qualifier in Addis Ababa which Ethiopia won by 1-0. Although they later lost the return leg 6-0 in Lagos, the present Ethiopia team can draw confidence from the historical fact that they’ve beaten Nigeria before in Addis Ababa and they can do it again. Meanwhile, it is highly unlikely that Nigeria can beat Ethiopia 6-0 in the return leg this time around.

2. Ethiopia qualified for the 2013 Nations Cup in South Africa after being away from the finals for decades. This suggests that there’s a resurgence of their football and they are a much better team than they were in 1994.

3. Ethiopia qualified for the final play-off of the 2014 African World Cup qualifiers, despite having three points docked for fielding an ineligible player in one of their group matches. They needed to win their final match away to Central African Republic to seal the ticket ahead of South Africa and they did just that winning 2-1 away in Brazzaville. Ethiopia ended up scoring more goals than Nigeria during the qualifiers! This confirms that their resurgence is no fluke.

4. Ethiopia held Nigeria goalless for nearly 80 minutes when both teams met at the 2013 Nations Cup as the Eagles couldn’t score in open play against the defensively  well-organized Antelopes. In fact, it took two late penalties by Victor Moses for Nigeria to grind out a 2-0 victory. Ethiopia will like to draw strength from that performance when they meet Nigeria again. They will be watching the video replay right now!

5. The majority of the Ethiopian squad play for local clubs which affords them a great opportunity to come together quickly for training and preparation. This reflects in their pattern of play which is quite cohesive. (To be sure, go and watch a play-black of our Nations Cup encounter with them).

6. Ethiopia have retained the same coach, Sewnet Bishaw, who led them to the Nations Cup. They have benefitted immensely from the managerial continuity and stability he has brought to the team.

7. Ethiopia have not lost a single competitive game since their 2-0 reverse against Nigeria at the AFCON. They will expect to extend that record when they host the Super Eagles in the first leg of the play-offs.

8. Ethiopia have a huge advantage with their high altitude weather which is very unkind to visiting teams, especially Europe-based players. They will plan to run the Super Eagles aground and finish off the tie in the first leg.

9. If Ethiopia get a “favourable” result in the first leg, they will have an opportunity to play a totally defensive game in the second leg to frustrate the Super Eagles.

What Eagles Must Do

With the foregoing FACTS about Ethiopia in mind, the following are my suggestions to the Super Eagles.

1. Approach the first leg as if it’s the ONLY match: Last week, I analyzed why playing home or away in the first leg may or may not be an advantage or a disadvantage. If the Eagles allow Ethiopia to record a “favourable”
first leg result in Addis Ababa, they will simply come and play ten men in defence and make life difficult for us in the return leg in Calabar. The best way to prevent this is to go for a WIN in Addis Ababa. Playing at home in front of their supporters and with all their recent “impressive” results edging them on, the Ethiopians will be motivated to attack and open up the game thereby presenting the Eagles with their best chances of scoring. We must take advantage and score a couple of goals there. If Nigeria win the first leg, we will be more than half-way through to Brazil.

2. Target a 2-0 win: Not only should we go for a win in Addis Ababa, we should target a two-goal margin victory.
A 2-0 loss at home will be a psychological blow for Ethiopia because they will realize that they cannot win the return leg 3-0. But a 1-0 loss will still keep them hopeful, thinking they can come here, steal a goal on the counter-attack and stand a chance of qualifying on the away goals rule or via a penalty shoot-out. Nigeria’s target should be to make Ethiopia completely lose hope after the first leg. A 2-0 win will do that.

3. Adequate preparation: To achieve objectives 1 and 2 above, Nigeria must prepare very, very well. We are already disadvantaged by the fact that most of our players are based abroad which means Stephen Keshi can’t have them until the time stipulated by FIFA. Ethiopia on the other hand could even suspend their entire domestic league if that is what they need to make sure the players are available for coach Bishew’s preparations. Ethiopia have that advantage over Nigeria and that is why they are more cohesive. But Nigeria has the stronger, better and more experienced players and we must play to our strengths. A solid preparation will be key to achieving that.

4. First hand experience: When Ethiopia  beat Nigeria 1-0 during the 1994 Nations Cup qualifiers in April 1993, Nigeria’s goalkeeper was Ike Shorunmu while Daniel Amokachi was one of our strikers. Coincidently, both are now members of the Super Eagles technical crew as goalkeeper trainer and assistant coach respectively.

Shorunmu and Amokachi have first hand experience of how it feels to play in the high altitude of Addis Ababa and how it feels to lose to Ethiopia . I hope that experience comes in handy when it’s time for Super Eagles team talk.

5. Avoid Complacency: I was quite pleased with coach Stephen Keshi’s reaction to the Eagles 4-1 defeat of a second string Burkina Faso team in a friendly game last week in Kaduna. Rather than celebrate the four goals scored by his team, Keshi focused instead on the solitary goal they conceded and warned the players to avoid such carelessness and loss of concentration again in the future.

What this tells me is that Keshi is fully aware that goal difference may become crucial in the play-offs and we mustn’t go about conceding goals carelessly. I addressed this matter last week and I’m just pleased to see Keshi is not complacent about the World Cup play-offs. Tactically, the Ethiopian coach is not a pushover and Keshi is proving everyday that he also knows his onions. That is very reassuring.

6. Weather and other logistic factors: The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) must do its home work properly ahead of the first leg because the high altitude of Addis Ababa will certainly have an impact on the game. No matter how focused and determined the Eagles are, they will not be able to run or compete for 90 minutes if they cannot breathe well in the rarified air of Ethiopia. Meanwhile, we all know that the marathoner-Ethiopians can run literally forever!

The NFF must consult properly on the best approach to dealing with the weather. Travel arrangements must also be perfect so that our players do not suffer any stressful stop-overs before arriving in Ethiopia. In fact, I will suggest that the team travel by chartered flight to ensure a hitch-free journey.

If we get our preparations for the weather and other logistics right, Ethiopia stand no chance of creating an upset against the Super Eagles. Nigeria have the better players, we have the stronger team, the record of past encounters between both teams is lopsided in our favour, we defeated them 2-0 the last time we met and we are the current African champions.

Without being immodest, Nigeria are the clearest favourite to win their tie among all the African play-off fixtures. The only way we can fail against Ethiopia is if we are complacent  and neglect any part of our preparations. In essence, only Nigeria can stop the Super Eagles from going to Brazil 2014. Our fate is in our hands.

Ghana/Egypt is Toughest Fixture

FOR those who claim that Ethiopia is a difficult draw for Nigeria, I wonder what they have to say about the rest of the World Cup play-offs which pitted some of Africa’s biggest teams against each other. Last week, I clearly stated my desire not to face Egypt and Cameroon. I am not ashamed to say that I am relieved that we avoided them. We still have to work hard to overcome Ethiopia as I have stated earlier, but I am convinced that we are better off than most in the play-offs…

Ghana versus Egypt: This definitely is the toughest fixture of the lot. Between them, Ghana (four times) and Egypt (seven times) have won the African Nations Cup 11 times. Reports from Accra indicate that the whole city went quiet when the Black Stars were drawn against the Pharaohs. Ghanaians have good reasons to fear the Egyptians who earlier expressed a preference for Ghana or Nigeria presumably because they know how to handle the West Africans. But I have a hunch that the Black Stars will nick this one. My Ghana friends reading Complete Sports today, please fear no more! I tip Ghana to qualify.

Cote d’Ivoire versus Senegal: The Teranga Lions have been banished from playing their home games at home since the Elephants defeated them in Dakar en route to the 2013 Nations Cup and their fans went violent. Now, their old nemesis is back to extend their misery. This tie is gift-wrapped for Didier Drogba and co, especially as Senegal’s “home” game will be played on a neutral ground. My tip is CIV to qualify.

Tunisia versus Cameroon: The Carthage Eagles will find out very soon why I didn’t want the Super Eagles to face Cameroun. These Lions have little or no respect for Eagles generally, especially a Tunisian side that got into the play-offs only because of Cape verde’s misfortune. I tip Cameroun to qualify.

Burkina Faso versus Algeria: This promises to be another tough tie between two rising teams. The Stallions will give the Fennecs a good run for their money but I tip Algeria to qualify in the end.

In summary, my tips for the five African slots at 2014 World Cup in Brazil are Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun and Algeria.

Do you agree or disagree with my World Cup tips? Send me your own tips, plus your suggestions to the NFF and the Super Eagles on how to overcome Ethiopia. Please include your name and location.

Congrats Enyimba

Enyimba Football Club of Aba emerged winners of the 2013 Federation Cup (formerly FA Cup) last Saturday at the Teslim Balogun stadium in Lagos.

The Peoples’ Elephant had to come back twice to force a 2-2 draw in regulation time before beating an unfortunate Warri Wolves 5-4 on penalties.

Everybody has been waxing lyrical about how the match was a good advertisement for Nigerian domestic football. I cannot agree more. It was thrilling, exciting, full of goals and full of suspence till the very end.

My heart goes out to Wolves who played a really good game and (at 2-1) thought they had won their first major title until Enyimba  scored a spectacular late free kick to force the penalty shoot-out.

On a personal note, I want to congratulate Enyimba coach Salisu Yusuf for the victory in only his first year in charge of Enyimba.

As a young reporter, I remember covering many of Yusuf’s games when he played as a strong midfielder for the great Ranchers Bees of Kaduna in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A friendship developed between us and I am so proud of him today on his latest achievement.

Hi Salisu. How do you say this in Hausa: Nzogbu nzogbu, Enyimba, enyi! I will like to know...


  1. Oga Mumini,
    Very apt analysis for the Ethiopia play-offs, sir!
    The high altitude of Addis-Ababa must not necessarily be a key factor.
    Nigeria is well-equipped with physically-conditioned players (80% Euro-based)whose outstanding cardiovascular conditioning should cope well with high-altitude conditions for 90 minutes.
    Nigeria can fly into Ethiopia on the eve of match day which gives Nigeria a 24-hour window before the onset of high-altitude impact on the body.
    The key for Nigeria's success is PSYCHOLOGY. The mind-set of the players has been the recent failings of Nigeria in away games.
    And this Ethiopia game is just another away game.
    Nigeria's mind-set (cue performance)during away games is set up to provide encouragement to underdog sides to make headlines.
    For all the successes, Keshi's Nigeria struggle at away games because the team performs in REACTIVE MODE: regress to the level of the opposition.
    If Nigeria performs in REACTIVE MODE in Addis Ababa, it shall be a tortuous 90 minutes, because this Ethiopia side shall require very little encouragement to make history.
    Make no mistake, this Ethiopia side is cohesive and ambitious, but they are limited in experience and organisation.
    Having watched this Ethiopian side grow from the back-waters of CECAFA Tournaments, to the heights of AFCON 2013, their secrets will not make a CSI check-list.
    The Ethiopians are equipped with decent ball-possession skills which can unravel a less cohesive opposition. However, disrupt their midfield play, and they have no Plan B.
    In fact, Ethiopia struggled for lengthy spells against an average Botswana in Addis Ababa in March before edging the tie with a lone goal.
    In June, they survived a South African onslaught before winning 2-1 with a South African own-goal.
    For once in an away game, Nigeria must apply the right mind-set (PROACTIVE MODE), which is to impose her strengths:
    1. Physique (Emenike, Oboabuna, Efe, et al)
    2. Athleticism (Musa, Moses, Onazi, et al)
    3. Tactical nous(a spell of harmless "keep-ball passing" mixed with sudden long raking passes over the top to the strikers) Westerhof's 94 side used it frequently to dismantle tactically naive underdogs.

    It does not take rocket science to determine that, if Keshi's preparation is hitch-free, and Nigeria plays her A-game, Ethiopia will be beaten comfortably.

    from Adaorile, Gaborone, Botswana.

  2. Realistically, Ethiopia's football has improved tremendously over the past few years. However, I expect the Super Eagles to pull this off. Obviously they'll give us a good run for our money, but like you said the only thing that can stop Nigeria is the Super Eagles themselves. We've got a pool of talented individuals painting Europe red @ the moment; therefore the world cup ticket is absolutely non-negotiable.

  3. Nigerian Football team has finest players in the world -

  4. Good analysis here sir, but i'd like our football jornalists to do a complete player analysis of the Ethopian team, who is thier danger man and the kind of opposition to expect from this team,they have improved tremendously since Afcon '13 which is what is giving them confidence. What kind of formation will give us a confortable result in Addis Ababa,this and more can expose the strength and weakness of our opponent which will be an added advantage,the super eagles must be ready to spill their blood because it wont be that easy draw which we anticipated.