Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ethiopia can rewrite history

Nigeria and Ethiopia have locked horns seven times with the West Africans winning four times, drawing twice and losing just once. Though this may look lopsided on paper one has to remember that Ethiopia’s solitary win came against Nigeria’s best team ever - the 1994 Eagles.
In as much as it occurred a year earlier in 1993, the superb 1994 team would be the same almost to a man. As we know that team would be eventual African Champions and rise to be ranked 5th in the World which is the highest ranking of any African team ever.

Yet the Walya Antelopes against this star studded Eagles team that ironically included both current Nigerian coaches Keshi and Amokachi, clawed out a narrow 1-0 win in Addis Ababa.

So the writing for Nigeria is on the wall. Take the East Africans for granted and get nailed no matter how good you may be on paper or start studded a team you may have.

But let’s get back to history.

The first meeting between both countries was at the 1982 AFCON in Libya. There Nigeria pulled Ethiopia apart like a soft loaf of bread and won 3-0. In that game Coach Stephen Keshi had a monster of a game and scored a brace with Adeshina getting the other goal.

The second encounter though a friendly played in Ethiopia in January of 1993, was far tougher and Nigeria managed to overcome a solid home team with a 1-0 victory.

Then came the for mentioned shocker for Nigeria which unfolded on April the 11th 1993 and was highly celebrated by the East Africans who despite a blossoming local league then had failed to make any impression on Africa even at the club level.

Angered by that defeat Nigeria sharpened her swords and lay in wait for Ethiopia to come to Lagos for the return leg. On game day the Antelopes simply had no answer for the Eagles goal king and gargantuan Yekini (RIP). The Hulk scored a hat-trick en route to 6-0 trashing. The game was also the debut for SuperSport’s Sunday Oliseh and saw Nigeria’s goal keeper Peter Rufai dance his way from his 18 to the penalty spot to convert a goal. He would subsequently dance his way back to his net all without missing a beat. Despite the subsequent yellow card, it drove the Eagles fans crazy and the Surulere Stadium shook as they celebrated.

The next game was the 2012 first leg Nations Cup qualifier in Addis which ended in a 2-2 draw and in my humble opinion is the real reason the Siasia led Nigeria failed to make the ANC hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. I remember vividly listening to the game on radio and never hearing more than two Nigerian names being mentioned in a row. So disruptive was the Ethiopian defense that day that almost nothing worked for the team in all green. Meanwhile their Saledin Said was on fire and bagged a brace as Nigeria was rescued at the very end by Yobo’s head to salvage a draw she did not deserve.

Again that seemed to light a fire under the Nigerians because just as in 1993 they talked softly but lay in wait carrying a big stick for the return leg. This time it was in Abuja and Nigeria simply decimated the East Africans with Peter Utaka and Ike Uche each netting a brace each as Nigeria cruised to a 4-0 win.

The final encounter as we know came in South Africa at the 2013 Afcon. Tightly contested for 70 minutes Ethiopia fell apart in the last 20 with her Goal Keeper Sisay Bancha’s felonious antics on Victor Moses gifting Nigeria not one, but two penalties which he converted himself. They proved to be the difference.

And that’s the way things stand historically. Clearly the advantage is in Nigeria’s favour but Ethiopia knows that with one draw and one victory she can tip the odds just as she did on April the 11th 1993 and write her own history.