Keshi predicts ‘unpredictable’ WCup playoffs
ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Africa’s big teams can expect “tough, unpredictable” games in next month’s World Cup playoffs, according to Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi, whose continental champions are set to face Ethiopia, maybe the most erratic of the 10 teams playing for a place in Brazil.
Keshi said he has respect for the Ethiopians, who Nigeria last met at the African Cup in January and only just beat with two penalties in the last 10 minutes.
“I am certain that it will be tough, unpredictable and exciting for both the so called big teams and the minnows,” Keshi said in a statement through the Nigeria Football Federation late Wednesday. “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.”
Ethiopia had a wild ride at the African Cup in South Africa after qualifying for the first time in over 30 years, surprisingly drawing 1-1 with defending champion Zambia in its first game back, losing 4-0 to Burkina Faso, pushing Nigeria close and having two goalkeepers sent off in three games.
Ethiopia’s federation also was fined for its fans throwing objects onto the pitch in one of the games, and supporters held up a banner in a later match apologizing for their behavior, which they said was because they “love the game.”
“At that time we were just happy to get back into top level competition and were inexperienced but now we have had many more matches at this level so we will give it a good go against Nigeria,” Ethiopia coach Sewnet Bishaw said at this week’s World Cup playoff draw.
The football-mad East African country has a chance at its first ever World Cup appearance after an equally eventful qualifying campaign, when it was stripped of a win by FIFA after fielding an ineligible player “by mistake” and still qualified above South Africa.
Keshi, meanwhile, is distracted by a complaint of racism made against him by Malawi coach Tom Saintfiet after Keshi referred to Saintfiet as a “white dude” who should go back to his native Belgium in the buildup to their game in the final round of group qualifiers.
FIFA is still considering the complaint.
Nigeria travels to Ethiopia’s intimidating Addis Ababa Stadium for the first leg of their playoff next month, with the second leg in Nigeria in November.
“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,” Keshi said.