Not many Nigerians know much about the Super Eagles of Nigeria group opponents in the ongoing African Cup of Nations soccer fiesta holding in South Africa. Here are the group opponents, how they qualified, their managers and star players.
Zambia qualified in dramatic circumstances. They faced Uganda in the second round of qualification and took a 1-0 lead into the second leg of the tie. Uganda brought the tie back to level terms, determined to keep the 2012 champions fighting to the bitter end. However, Zambia rallied, showing the team spirit which had won the tournament in Equatorial Guinea and eventually eventually gained entrance to the 2013 African Cup of Nations after winning a breath-taking penalty shootout 9-8 in Kampala.
Their coach Herve Renard is a hard taskmaster who puts the team ahead of the individual, always expecting one hundred per cent from every one of his players.
He has taken Zambia to three Afcon tournaments and his ability to create success out of team work, team spirit and a never-say-die attitude has made him a popular figure in Zambian football circles.
The Chipolopolo, as the Zambiam team are known, derive their inspiration from their captain, Christopher Katongo, who rallied his colleagues against the odds to beat favourites Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire to claim one of the most dramatic underdog victories in recent footballing history. Katongo is a work-horse in the midfield and relies more on his instincts and determination than pure skill. He scored three vital goals in the 2012 Afcon campaign, including a priceless winner against Ghana in the semi-finals and should be watched closely by the Eagles.
Burkina Faso narrowly edged Central African Republic (C.A.R) on a 3-2 aggregate to book their place at the 2013 Afcon after a nervous return leg in Ouagadougou, where the Stallions toiled until the final minute before scoring the winner. They lost the first leg of the second round by a lone goal in Bangui and came from behind to win the return fixture 3-1 after conceding an early 7th minute goal through David Manga of Serbian club FK Partizan
They are coached by Paul Put who took over from Portuguese manager Paulo Duarte last March following the Stallions’ woeful return from the 2012 Nations Cup, where they lost all three of their games and crashed out in the group stage.
The Belgian, who has coached top teams such as Lokeren and Lierse in the Jupiler Pro League, will have in hand a bunch of young and brilliant players he will be required to turn into stars or at least reorganise Burkina Faso football and subsequently lay the foundations for a sound Burkinade sporting future.
Their star player is Alain Traore who is known for his pace and elusive dribbling style. Although his work rate is yet to be at its best, the 22-year-old striker made himself a central figure at his former French club Auxerre, where he played seven seasons from 2005 and stayed high in the league’s scorers list for months, before joining Lorient in July 2012.
He appears to be an indispensable forward to every new coach that takes over the Burkina Faso outfit, due to his penchant for goals and ability to set up other players, while regularly holding up the ball. Traore’s brace against the Central African Republic helped his side to scramble a late winner that earned their ticket to the ongoing soccer fiesta in South Africa.
After a 31-year absence, Ethiopia qualified for the finals by dumping highly favoured Sudan in the last match, thanks to a 2-0 victory after strikes from Adane Girma and Saladine Said. The away goals rule ensured that they sailed through at the expense of the Nile Crocodiles, who had won the first leg match played in Khartoum 5-3.
Like the Eagles, they are handled by an indigenous coach Sewnet Bishaw, who is fancied by many in the east African region to lead his charges to a respectable showing at the 2013 Afcon. The veteran tactician has enjoyed successful stints with clubs in the Ethiopian League and at Yemen top flight side Ahly Senaa, before assuming the role of Ethiopian head coach.
Ethiopia’s mainstay is their captain and lanky but mobile central defender, Degu Debebe who has held on for the past decade. He carries a wealth of experience to the team from both club and country.
He is expected to lead the team from the backline at the Nations Cup, with his experience and determination set to be put to the test.
Their star player is Adane Girma. He is expected to play an integral part in Ethiopia’s performance in the tournament. During the 2013 Afcon qualifiers, the 27-year-old calmly dispatched the all-important penalty that helped Ethiopia eliminate Benin on away goals in the preliminary round, then following his impressive form by scoring the opening goal as Ethiopia secured their first Afcon trip in three decades at the expense of neighbours Sudan.