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Apparently informed by past failures against Angola and Guinea, two countries considered minnows by Nigerians yet turned the tide against the senior national team, Super Eagles Head Coach, Stephen Keshi, insisted yesterday that he was not going to underrate Ethiopia in the play off of the 2014 World Cup.
The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winning coach who spoke for the first time on Monday's draw by CAF which pits the Eagles against the Walya Antelopes in the two legged, home and away play off, said that he has a lot of respect for the Ethiopians. "I have a lot of respect for the Ethiopians and all the teams that made it to the last round of the qualifier and I am certain that it will be tough, unpredictable and exciting for both the so-called big teams and the minnows", he said. Speaking from the United States of America where he went to see his immediate family after the last group match with Malawi in Calabar early this month, Keshi admitted he foresees a very difficult opposition in the East Africans. He however assured Nigerian ball fans that the Eagles will not disappoint like they did against Angola for the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany.
"The last time we played the Ethiopians it was quite tough and I know when we meet next it's going to be the same thing. All we need to do is to be focused, concentrate and pray for good health for our best players and the rest will be history," observed the former Togo and Mali gaffer.
Keshi warned all the other teams in the 10-team play offs to beware of upsets. He said all the 10 teams that made it to the final qualifier round are equally matched and warned those teams having air of superiority to beware, because there might be upsets in some of the games if the opposition is underrated. The Eagles head coach said his list for first leg encounter in Addis Ababa will be released on time but assured Nigerians that all the players are aware of the enormous task of qualifying for the World Cup.
However, a former international, Benedict Iroha, has predicted that Eagles have a great chance of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup after being pitched against the Walyas Antelopes.
Iroha said that the draw was good to the Eagles and that a way has been opened for them to qualify for next year's World Cup if the players, coaches and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) do not display complacency and tardiness in their build up to both legs.He charged the Eagles to live up to their reputation as African champions by beating Ethiopia if possible in both legs to confirm that Nigeria's senior national team renaissance that started during the last AFCON quarter final duel with Cote d' Ivoire was still intact.
"To be frank, this is a very good draw for us (Nigeria). We can't ask for any easier draws than the one we have been offered. Though Ethiopia is a good side but the Eagles should just do enough to beat them to qualify for the World Cup. For me, we have one leg already in Brazil. With just little extra effort we shall have both legs there.The players, coaches and the NFF must ensure that they put their house in order and do their part to ensure that Nigeria is at next year's World Cup. We are African Champions. We must live up to that appellation by defeating Ethiopia over the two legs. We have been in a good momentum since we beat Ivory Coast at the last Nations Cup and we must sustain this," Iroha offered Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, FIFA has ordered all ten African teams involved in the final phase of the World Cup qualifiers to confirm date and venue fixtures of their play-offs tomorrow, September 20.
The teams, Cote D'ivoire, Senegal, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Burkina Faso and Cameroun must submit the dates and venue for their respective home fixture today.
The global body has fixed the weekend of October 11-15 and November 15-19 as dates for both legs with the various teams allowed picking a day within the allotted date.
Ghana is said to be considering the Baba Yara Stadium, Kumasi as home venue for the Black Stars clash with Egypt in the game expected to fall within October 11-15.
Egypt could be compelled by FIFA to choose between Alexandria and Cairo as venue for the return leg billed within November 15-19 despite the Pharaohs previous usage of the El Gouna arena.
In other pairings, Cote D'Ivoire host Senegal in Abidjan before journeying to the alternative for Dakar since its banned for the return leg a month later. Ethiopia will be at home to African champions, Nigeria in the first leg. Tunisia will face off Cameroun whilst Algeria plays Burkina Faso.
Winners of the two-legged game will form Africa's five representatives at the 2014 World Cup to be hosted by Brazil.