AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene

Ethiopia-Eritrea thaw continues with plans for soccer game

Leave a comment

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) Ethiopia and Eritrea will meet in a football friendly next month, another move marking the swift end to their 20-year state of war.

Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported the game will take place in late August in the Eritrean capital Asmara.

[ MORE: Pellegrini ready for more in Rome ]

The match will be the first between the East African nations in more than two decades. It comes amid a surprising and sudden diplomatic thaw between two countries that fought a border war from 1998 to 2000 that killed tens of thousands.

The first step to ending one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts came last month when Ethiopia’s reformist new prime minister fully accepted a peace deal that ended the border conflict.

Since then, the leaders of the countries have visited the other and agreed to reopen embassies. Commercial flights between the two have restarted.

Teen phenom Zelalem is on the team sheet for Arsenal’s FA Cup match versus Coventry City


The team sheets for today’s FA Cup fourth round match between Arsenal and Coventry City are in, and 16-year-old Gedion Zelalem is inching close to his senior bow with a spot on the Gunners bench.

Zelalem is the teenage sensation of Ethiopian-German blood who lived on American soil for seven years and is being courted by USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Arsenal will start: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Gnabry, Podolski, Bendtner.

The bench: Viviano, Sagna, Monreal, Zelalem, Flamini, Cazorla, Giroud.

Another teenager with American ties, Julian Green, made headlines when he made his senior debut for Bayern Munich late in 2013. Green only got into the match for five minutes, but it was a big moment for the German-American (who was featured in a nice piece by SI’s James Young yesterday). Green scored in a friendly win over Al-Merrikh in Doha earlier this month.

We’ll see if Zelalem sees similar token time, a decent run this afternoon at the Emirates, or if he has to wait longer to make his senior debut. He’s expected to sign his first senior contract when he turns 17 this weekend.

Nigeria beat Ethiopia to clinch spot in Brazil

Leave a comment

Nigeria are through to their fifth World Cup in the past two decades, thanks to a 4-1 aggregate win over Ethiopia. The Super Eagles win was really no surprise, given that they came to Nigeria with a 2-1 victory. But goals from Victor Moses and Victor Obinna sealed the deal, and Nigeria are now free to book themselves tickets to Brazil — after a crazy party, one hopes.

The first goal came 20 minutes into the first half, when Victor Moses stepped up to the spot in hopes of putting a Nigeria win out of reach. He sent his penalty kick low and to his right, while Ethiopia goalkeeper Sisay Bancha went the other way. The Super Eagles’ second came courtesy of the man who had replaced Moses just minutes before. Victor Obinna sent in a lovely free kick, albeit straight at the keeper. Bancha should have done better but the ball seemed to fly through the keeper’s fingers, landing in the back of the net…or possibly in Brazil.

There’s a smidgen of sadness surrounding this one, at least for the neutrals. For Ethiopia, it must be more than a smidgen. They were the continent’s Cinderella story. After finally qualifying this year for their first Africa Cup of Nations in over 30 years, they had a chance to make it to their first ever World Cup. The Walias were the last remaining team to make it through from the first round of qualifiers, the ones that Africa’s lesser-ranked sides must go through. They made it through a tough match against Nigeria only to see a harsh penalty awarded that gave the visitors the lead. And in this match, the first goal came in the same manner, with the referee calling a handball on Aynalem Hailu, the same player who conceded the last minute penalty in the first leg.

But, however much the fans might want a fairy tale ending, players and coaches aren’t paid to deliver one. Nigeria’s mission was to make it to Brazil, no matter what good storylines they might wreck while getting there. The Super Eagles accomplished that mission, and it’s now time for Stephen Keshi to concentrate on how to ready his side to face the best in the world.

Africa World Cup Qualifying: final matches start Saturday

Leave a comment

By the end of the day on Tuesday, we’ll know which five African sides are headed to Brazil. The first legs were played out an entire month ago, and the teams have had plenty of time to mull over whether they’d be getting a chance at World Cup glory (except, perhaps, for Ghana, who’ve likely already booked a group holiday tour). Now, finally, the next few days will end in heartbreak for some, and delirious joy for others.

So let’s delve on in. We’ll find out who’s still got a chance, who’s almost certainly staying at home, and what matches are most likely to take the tension right down to the wire.

Nigeria vs. Ethiopia (Saturday at 10 a.m. ET)
First leg: Ethiopia 1-2 Nigeria
The first deciding match looks, on paper, like it might be one of the best. But then you consider the fact that, really, all Nigeria need to do at home is to make sure Ethiopia don’t score two goals. In October, the match was scoreless at the half, with the Super Eagles solid and able to contain the hosts. A slight slip from Vincent Enyeama saw Ethiopia take the lead, but Emmanuel Emenike sent in a sharp goal ten minutes later, and converted a penalty in the 90th minute for Nigeria to take away the lead. As long as Steven Keshi instructs his side to stay focused, it should be simple enough for Nigeria to make it to Brazil. But if you’re a real fan of underdogs, cheer on the Walias, the only side left that entered in the first round of qualifying, and who’ve never made it to a World Cup.

Senegal vs. Ivory Coast (Saturday at 2 p.m. ET)
First leg: Ivory Coast 3-1 Senegal
Senegal’s first, and only, trip to the World Cup came back in 2002, and it looks unlikely that they’ll make their second appearance in 2014. Ivory Coast took an early lead in the first leg, thanks to a penalty from Didier Drogba and an own goal from Ludovic Sané that had the Elephants up 2-0 before 15 minutes had passed. The Elephants are probably already convinced that they’re on their way to a third straight World Cup appearance, but the fact that they let slip a last minute goal from Papiss Cissé should give them pause. Senegal weren’t about to give up on their Brazilian dreams, and with Alain Giresse stating that his side are set to go for it in Casablanca, Ivory Coast would do well to not let their guard slip.

Cameroon vs. Tunisia (Sunday at 9 a.m. ET)
First leg: Tunisia 0-0 Cameroon
Cameroon made it to South Africa last time around, but lost all three of their group stage matches. Tunisia missed out in 2010 and hasn’t won a World Cup match since 1978. Still, one of these sides is going to make it to Brazil, so let’s hope they find their scoring boots this time around. But both sides are likely to approach this one cautiously. Tunisia know the hosts have the advantage and will do everything in their power to make sure Cameroon don’t score, likely not even attempting to press forward until near the end of the match. Still, we can hope that, say, Samuel Eto’o finds the goal early on, pushing the visitors into an attack.

Egypt vs. Ghana (Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET)
First leg: Ghana 6-1 Egypt
One has to wonder if the Black Stars are already chilling on the beach in Rio. In the first leg, Asamoah Gyan had Ghana ahead before five minutes were up. Wael Gomaa helped out with an own goal, and Majeed Waris added another before the break. Egypt’s only goal came from a penalty taken by Mohamed Aboutrika in the first half. Gyan added another in the second, with André Ayew and Sulley Muntari also getting on the scoresheet. While it would be nice for Egypt to give Bob Bradley an appropriate sending off in Cairo, it’s almost unthinkable that they’ll get the 5-0 scoreline required to take the Pharaohs to their first World Cup in nearly 25 years.

Algeria vs. Burkina Faso (Tuesday at 1:15 p.m. ET)
First leg: Burkina Faso 3-2 Algeria
Saving the best for last, eh, Africa? Last time around, Algeria staged a comeback, with Sofiane Feghouli and Carl Medjani scoring in the second half to bring the scoreline level. But, with five minutes left to play in Ouagadougou, the visitors were a bit anxious, and wound up giving away a penalty. Aristide Bancé converted to give Burkina Faso the advantage. The Stallions are the current Cinderella story of Africa, having made it to the final of the 2013 Cup of Nations, and are now competing for the chance to get to their first-ever World Cup. Judging from October’s match, however, Algeria aren’t about to simply hand Burkina Faso their fairy tale ending.

Nigeria rallies for away win to boost chances of World Cup qualification

Leave a comment

Nigeria defeated Ethiopia 2-1 in their away leg of Africa’s playoff round to put themselves in an outstanding position as they look to quailfy for Brazil 2014.

The Super Eagles, despite trailing in the second half, rallied in Addis Ababa thanks to a brace by Emmanuel Emenike.

Ethiopia deservedly went ahead in the 56th minute when Behailu Assefa’s cross fooled Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and he caught the ball behind the line.

The goal alerted the visitors though, and Emenike stepped up.

The Fenerbahce striker powered home a drive in the 67th minute for the equalizer, and won the match with a penalty in the 90th minute, finishing after being brought down by Aynalem Hailu.

Barring a collapse at home from Victor Moses, John Obi Mikel, Shola Ameobi and company, Nigeria will qualify for their fifth World Cup in their last six attempts.

The reverse fixture will take place November 16th in Calabar.  If Ethiopia can complete the comeback, they would be the first East African nation to appear in a World Cup.