Eagles: This Said can send you out!
BY TONY UBANI
On the eve of what has turned out to be Nigeria’s most important match at this Africa Cup of Nations so far, Chairman of the NFF Technical Committee, Barrister Chris Green has assured that the Super Eagles will not underrate their less fancied opponents from the Horn of Africa.
Ethiopia’s Walya Antelopes stand between Nigeria and a place in the knock-out phase of the continent’s biggest house party, following inauspicious draws with Burkina Faso and Zambia in earlier sessions.
Green said: “The players know what this match means and they will not toy with it. It is the game we must win to get to the quarter finals. A win and nothing less.”
A draw could still get Nigeria into the last eight, provided Burkina Faso’s Etalons overpower the defending champions in the other game of Group C at Mbombela Stadium same day, but Green is averse to such negative thinking and voodoo mathematics.
“I am not at home for such permutations. The two matches will be played simultaneously and any team that takes things for granted will have itself to blame,” Green said, as he referred to Sunday’s dramatic
end to Group A, with Morocco’s Atlas Lions eliminated despite being at the top of the table with five minutes left.
“When we step out at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Tuesday, it is to pick up the three points,” concluded Green.
It will be important for the Super Eagles not to underestimate their opponents in Tuesday’s encounter.
In June 2011, the Nigerians were overwhelming favourites to trample on the Antelopes for three points in a 2012 Cup of Nations qualifier in Addis Ababa. The irrepressible Ikechukwu Uche gave Nigeria the lead but the hosts equalized when Vincent Enyeama misjudged a pull-out and lethal marksman Salahdin Said headed into the net on the stroke of half time.
Eagles were on the backfoot soon after recess when Efe Ambrose sold his headed ball to Enyeama short and Said capitalized to slot past the stranded goalie. Skipper Joseph Yobo had to sprint forward to head in the equalizer with few minutes remaining.
Salahdin Said, 24, who plays for Wadi Degla in the Egyptian League, has not scored at this tournament, but is by far the most dreaded striker in the Ethiopian team.
The skinny, tireless forward has scored nine goals in 14 appearances for his country, including the goal that sent Ethiopia to the 29th Africa Cup of Nations at the expense of a rampant Sudan.
Following a 5-3 first leg win, the Sudanese arrived in Addis Ababa determined not to concede. However, they went behind after one hour and, had it stayed that way, they would have reached the finals. But Said turned up again and got the goal that eliminated them on the away-goal rule, sending Ethiopia to their first Cup of Nations in 31years.
Ethiopia currently top their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying table thanks to Said, who scored in the 1-1 draw with South Africa away and both goals in the 2-0 defeat of Central Africa Republic in Addis in June 2012.
Alongside skipper Adane Girma and the youthful Fuad Ibrahim, Coach Sewnet Bishaw has an attacking line capable of delivering the goods when called upon.
Officials have hinted that since goals are needed aplenty on Tuesday, Coach Stephen Keshi may start the ever-reliable Ikechukwu Uche, top scorer for Nigeria in the qualifying race.
Uche, who plays for Villarreal of Spain, was also top scorer for Nigeria in the qualifying race for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, also held in South Africa, but missed the finals as a result of injury.