The statistics supports this optimism. Head to head, Nigeria has a wide advantage in the seven matches already played by between the two countries. Nigeria won four, drew two and lost one. The Ethiopian victory occurred on home soil in 1994 when they piped the Eagles by a lone goal. In the return leg at the National Stadium, the Eagles decimated their opponent by 6-0. And some months back in the land of Nelson Mandela during the 2013 African Nations Cup, the Eagles taught the Ethiopians some football lessons cruising home to a 2-0 victory on their way to winning the prestigious trophy for the third time. And Ethiopia is nowhere near the Super Eagles in the FIFA ranking. On the face value therefore, the Super Eagles should have the Ethiopians for dinner over the two legged encounter and book Nigeria’s ticket for the World Cup in Brazil almost effortlessly.
But then, Stephen Keshi, the Super Eagles and those directly connected with ensuring Nigeria’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup will be making a grave mistake if they consider the Ethiopians a walk over and take the two important matches with levity. The fact that should be sounded by all and sundry and which Keshi and his co -travellers must come to terms with is that this is a do or die and make or mar situation. We are not in Brazil yet, there is one more major river to cross. The Ethiopians are not going to help the Eagles to qualify. Rather they will throw everything into the battle to stop the reigning African Champions because they want to create an upset and make history.
Statistics count for nothing when national pride and personal drive come into play. In the past some teams and countries have taken their opponent for granted to their eternal regret and the anguish of their compatriots. In Daman, Saudi Arabia during the 1989 World Youth Championship, the Russians were leading the Flying Eagles 4-0 and to the Muscovites it was all over for Nigeria. The technical crew substituted Oleg Salenko, the championship highest goal scorer just after scoring the fourth goal against Nigeria. They wanted him to be in the best of shape for the final which they thought was a foregone conclusion. But after the substitution the tables turned. Just in the space of twenty minutes a miracle occurred. The Flying Eagles not only levelled up but went on to win the ensuing penalty kicks to qualify for the final of the junior world cup.
Apparently the Brazilian Olympic football team did not learn any lesson from the Miracle of Daman. In 1996 during the Olympic Games in Atlanta the Brazilians parading the famous duo of Bebeto and Ronaldo committed self immolation. They were leading the Nigeria Olympic football team by 3-1 and Ronaldo was substituted apparently to keep him in the best of shape for the final. Nigeria eventually levelled up and took the match by 4-3 thanks to a clinical performance by Kanu Nwakwo .The Eagles should also ask the Tunisians why they had to resort to boardroom points to qualify for the last lap. They were done in by Cape Verde, a country without any pedigree in football and which has continued to kill many giants in the last few months. But for the painful decision taken by FIFA which disqualified Cape Verde for fielding an ineligible player, Tunisian would not be playing in the final qualifying round. The Eagles should also not forget what they did to Didier Drogba and his gang in the Semi final of the African Cup of Nations in South Africa. The Ivoirians simply strolled into the field with brimming confidence since the bookmakers had predicted a comprehensive defeat for the Super Eagles. But at the end of the proceedings they ate the humble pie as the Super Eagles deflated their over bloated EGO.
The Eagles and their handlers must not give room to complacency. They should see the Ethiopians as a formidable opponent. They are not minnows. They are good and that is why they qualified for the last round. The Eagles have what it takes to win this ticket. And they will get the ticket only if they don’t under rate the Ethiopians. This is not a time for acrimony and boardroom politics. All hands must be on deck to nick this one for country. Keshi and his boys have a crucial job to do.
So before we start rolling out the drums let us get the job done first.