Nigeria survived early fright in Addis Ababa to place one leg in next year’s World Cup in Brazil following their win over Ethiopia last Sunday
By Demola Dawodu & Akhoyanta Amos
The Super Eagles of Nigeria showed their class in a game where they were far from their best but with a clinical display edged the gutsy Ethiopians. This was as a result of the pragmatism of Stephen Keshi and the individual brilliance of Emmanuel Emenike. The big Nigerian gaffer well aware of the altitude in Addis Ababa named a conservative but attacking line-up with the Fenerbahce striker spearheading it.
The sprightly hosts backed by a vociferous crowd showed their attacking intent from the start as their short, quick passes caused Nigeria all sorts of trouble in midfield. The duo of Adane Girma and Minyahile Benyene controlled the middle of the park with their interchange of play and rapid movement which was a handful for the midfield pairing of Ogenyi Onazi and Mikel Obi.
The quick pressing of Saladin Said and the wingers ensured Nigeria were losing the ball in their own half. This continued throughout the first-half as Chelsea star Mikel failed to get a grip of the game. Ethiopia created the better chances but their lack of cutting edge in front of goal was their undoing though they were denied an opening goal by Godfrey Oboabona’s remarkable goal-line clearance.
The Antelopes started the second half in the ascendency just like the first but found it hard to break the Eagles’ rearguard, as the visitors were content with soaking up pressure and hitting on the counter-attack, while the fullbacks stuck to their defensive duties.
The hosts scored a well deserved first goal through bizarre and contentious circumstances as Enyeama misjudged the trajectory of a cross which flew past him from an innocuous angle though replays showed the ball might not have actually crossed the goal-line.
Keshi replaced the ineffective Nnamdi Oduamadi with Nosa Igiebor which allowed Mikel to make attacking forays which led to the Eagles making better use of the ball and the flanks.
Ethiopia coach Sewnet Bishaw responded by introducing Ukuri in place of Girma to stifle the attacks of the African champions but the introduction of Brown Ideye in place of Victor Moses proved to be a masterstroke from Keshi as he acted as a decoy and freed up space for Emenike who had more room to operate.
With Mikel slotting effortlessly into his forward role and the eye for a pass from Igiebor, Nigeria started to create openings which led to the equalizer as the Ethiopian defenders, concerned with the presence of Ideye, were slack in covering the space created by Emenike who took full advantage to slam a thunderous effort past the goalkeeper.
Nigeria started making use of the flanks as both Emenike and Musa got behind the Ethiopians readily. This led to the second goal as a beautifully lobbed through-pass from Mikel caught out Hainalem Hailu who brought down the Eagles marksman.
The Fenerbahce striker stepped up and slotted the resultant penalty to hand Nigeria a morale boosting win and put the country in pole position to qualify for next year’s World Cup despite being second best over the course of 90 minutes.
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