Players and officials of Waliya Antelopes of Ethiopia sounded confident and optimistic after training, Wednesday as they prepare for the crucial 2014 World Cup qualifier against the Super Eagles of Nigeria in Addis Ababa.
The players press on under the blistering morning sun for over two hours. At this crucial stage in the World Cup qualifiers, the team knows that every minute of training counts.
“We have tried to prepare them physically as well as mentally in the first week and now we are doing our tactical work and we will continue in the coming few days to combine the two,” said the Waliya Antelopes coach, Sewnet Bishaw in a chat with Jenny Vaughan of AFP.
Though the odds are stacked against Ethiopia — Nigeria rank 36th in the world, according to FIFA, while Ethiopia clocks in at 93, the ‘Waliyas’ maintain an unflinching resolve to win.
Having beaten 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa to land at the top of their group, it is the closest the Horn of Africa nation has come to reaching the finals.
Having played Nigeria last January at the Africa Cup of Nations, Ethiopia are familiar with the strength of Nigeria’s ‘Super Eagles’, who won the game 2-0 before moving on to win the lift the trophy in South Africa.
“We are ready for this match, we are very ready. We learned a lesson from the mistakes we made last time,” said midfielder Menyahil Teshome.
Coach Sewnet said despite Ethiopia’s defeat, the Nigerian squad is not a better team and the ‘Waliyas’ maintained their strength until the last 10 minutes of the game.
“If you look seriously at that match, Nigeria were not a better team than us. Up to the (end) we were performing good. But in the last 10 minutes they used their experience, so they got two penalties,” he said.
“I think we will have a better game in the coming match against Nigeria,” Sewnet said.
Though preventing Nigeria from scoring away goals is crucial if Ethiopia want to proceed, coach Sewnet said the team is focused on both defending and attacking, and is not prioritising one over the other.
And while he insists he is focusing on winning each match individually, instead of pressuring his team to reach Brazil, he does not scoff at the idea of making it to the World Cup.
“Why not? I don’t know Brazil, so I want to see it,” he joked.
The return match is scheduled for Calabar in south-east Nigeria on November 16 and the aggregate winners qualify for the World Cup.