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PREVIEW – AFCON Qualifier: Walias’ head coach issues rallying call to players ahead of tonight’s match against Guinea

Addis Ababa, March 24, 2023 (FBC) – The Ethiopian national football team head coach Wubetu Abate stated that his squad is in good shape and in high spirits ahead of tonight’s AFCON Qualifier game against Nabi Keita’s Guinea.

Webetu Abate has urged his players to seize the moment and secure their place in next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in Cote d’Ivoire, beginning Friday, March 24 when they face Guinea.

The Ethiopian football team, also known as The Walias, are top of Group D after two matches with 3 points +1 goal difference ahead of Malawi, Guinea, and Egypt.

This group remains wide open as all 4 teams have 3 points to their name but are only separated by their goal differences. After the 2-0 defeat to Ethiopia in their previous match, Egypt remains at the bottom of Group D with 3 points and –ve goal difference.

The 1962 champions, the Walias, are bidding to book their spot in the 34th edition of the finals of the biennial competition consecutively after participating in the 2021 edition last year in Cameroon. They will face Guinea twice in the space of 4 days.

Ahead of their match day three clash against the Djurtus of Guinea at the Mohammed V stadium in Casablanca, coach Wubetu shared his thoughts with the media yesterday.

According to the experienced coach, the game is of huge importance to his side and their opponents that’s why he wants his players to be at their best.

“There is no easy game. We know that the Guinean team is good. They have a good collection of footballers. Friday’s game and the next are important for all four Nations,” said Wubetu.

Egypt and Malawi who complete the exciting Group D also count three points from their opening two games, but Ethiopia lead the group courtesy of the aforementioned goal difference after their 2-0 win against the Pharaohs in match day two.

Wubetu refuses to be carried away, and says the competition is still open for all teams in the group.

“Although we are at the top of the group, all teams have equal points. Friday night’s game is crucial for us. We respect our opponent and we will run games like a fight till the end.”

The Walias know a win against Guinea will put them in a comfortable situation, given either the Pharaohs or the Flames will drop points in the other group fixture on Friday in Blantyre.

The Walias boss told his players via the presser: “If you are thinking of being at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, your desire is to have maximum points to achieve it. If that is not possible, there are things that you can put in order. If we can get six points from these two games, as every team wants, then it is great. If this is not the case, it is expected of a coach or a team to set other options. When we came here, we realized we have a team that can play well and gets points. We have three points from two games. As you know, we all have three points. In order to stay in there with the big teams, we have to achieve what we set out to do.”

The coach also highlighted all is going well with their preparations in Morocco.

“We are preparing well, despite the hurdles and difficulties. When I say this, I mean we are facing a very difficult team. They may cause difficulties. But that is our desire; our first desire is to be at the AFCON. And for that we must get points to ensure qualification. These two games are important for all four of us. All the coaches will tell you that they want to get six points.

The former Ethiopian international, who managed the Walias during the 2021 tournament, added that they are more concerned about themselves, but keep an eye on Guinea.

“We tried to look at the opponent as any team would do. But we also couldn’t find their recent games. We tried to watch their previous games. We noticed that they have changed some players from their squad at the AFCON. In the end, knowing them is beneficial. But it’s our preparation for the game and what we bring on match day that will determine the outcome. I think we’re in good spirits and shape.”

Speaking with Soccer Ethiopia, Walias’ captain, Shimels Bekele, who scored against Egypt on matchday 2, noted that he and his teammates realize that Guinea’s Nabi Keita is an influential player at his club (Liverpool) and his national team. However, Shimels confirmed that they do not prepare differently to stop a single player and give any special attention to anyone.

“I don’t care where he plays. In the past, we have faced big national teams like Egypt, Ivory Coast, and Ghana. We beat Egypt in the past. We don’t mind him playing for Liverpool”, Shimels underscored.

Kaba Diawara, head coach of Guinea, for his part, said they understand that the Ethiopian national team plays with a lot of ball possession.

He said his team respects their opponents. However, he emphasized that his side will try to get points from the two games.

Ethiopia and Guinea will stay on Moroccan soil after Friday’s game since both nations clash again on Monday in match day four of the qualifiers.

In terms of team news, the Walias will definitely be without their influential striker Abubeker Nasir who is ruled out of both matches due to injury. Defender Mignot Debebe will also miss through suspension. However, they will be boosted by the return of the veteran Striker Oumed Ukuri, who has previously scored against tonight’s opponents.

Guinea, meanwhile, will be hoping that their star midfielder Nabi Keita would be at his best form despite signs of a dip in form in his club appearances this season with Liverpool. However, they will be without Mohamed Camara and Ibrahima Sory Conté (Defender. They are also sweating over the fitness of Sehrou Guirassy (striker) and Morgan Bono Guilavogui (striker),

The match will reportedly be officiated by Beninese referees.

The 2023 AFCON tournament is scheduled for January -February 2024 in Cote d’Ivoire.

The host and 23 nations that will make it from the qualifiers will battle to win the crown currently in the hands of the reigning champions, the Teranga Lions of Senegal.

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