September 19, 2013

Ethiopia can be spoilers – Okoku

Paul Okoku

1984 Nations Cup silver-medal winner Paul Okuku has said that Ethiopia can spoil Super Eagles bid to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

The African champions were drawn to play minnows Ethiopia on Monday, prompting some measure of celebrations from football fans, who feel that the Eagles have landed in Brazil.

Of the ten teams left in the African qualifying zone, Ethiopia are the weakest link and their current FIFA ranking of 93 as against Nigeria’s 36, has made the fixture a David versus Goliath tie.

Paul Okoku

Paul Okoku

In their most recent meeting at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, the Eagles ground out a hard-fought 2-0 win over the Ethiopians in a final group match to qualify for the quarterfinal. It was the only group win for Nigeria, who went on to defeat Ivory Coast, Mali and Burkina Faso to win their third AFCON title.

And casting his expert view on the forthcoming playoffs against the east African nation known more for their exploits in long distance races, Okoku said that the Eagles would be making a huge mistake by underrating their opponents.

“When I heard that we were to play Ethiopia, I was taken aback because I remember how well these guys played us when we met in South Africa. They were a delight on the pitch and made life difficult for us”, Okoku told  Sports Vanguard in Lagos

He added that “that victory over them was the turning point for our team to go on to win the Nations Cup. But it did not come easy. We practically had to squeeze water out of rock to beat them and that is why I feel that they can be spoilers if we let our guards down.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we would qualify but our team given the improvements in the team. The key to emerging victorious is hard work and getting the win in Ethiopia, which I see our boys doing because they have been impressive away from home. Eagles have a good chance of reaching Brazil 2014 but they must stay rooted to the cause of fighting all the way”, said Okoku.