JOHANNESBURG:Ã‚Â ArsenalÃ‚Â managerÃ‚Â Arsene WengerÃ‚Â challenged English football journalists recently to name just five of theÃ‚Â EthiopiaÃ‚Â squad bound for the 2013Ã‚Â Africa Cup of NationsÃ‚Â in South Africa.
The FrenchmanÃ‚Â was commenting on the mysterious element of the tournament with many participants unknown outside their country until they are watched by a worldwide television audience.
“I am sure you will have a problem if I ask you to name even five Ethiopian players,”Ã‚Â WengerÃ‚Â told reporters during a lighter moment at a Gunners’ media conference.
While the media probably would have battled as Ethiopia are returning toÃ‚Â the Africa CupÃ‚Â after a 31-year absence spent mainly in the football backwaters,Ã‚Â Saladin SaidÃ‚Â is a name that should have sprung to mind.
Said has become a national star as the Walias Antelopes — the team nickname comes from an endangered species unique to the mountains ofÃ‚Â northern EthiopiaÃ‚Â — emerged from the shadows.
After finishing leading domestic scorer for in 2008 and 2009 withÃ‚Â Addis AbabaÃ‚Â club Saint George, Said moved north toÃ‚Â EgyptÃ‚Â when unfashionable Wadi Degla forked out a paltry $240,000 (180,000 euros) by European standards.
The move sharpened the predatory instincts of aÃ‚Â footballerÃ‚Â born in western town Asosa 24 years ago and hopes are high inÃ‚Â the Horn of AfricaÃ‚Â nation that he can tormentÃ‚Â Group C rivals Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Zambia.
It is a tall order for the 24-year-old with African pundits virtually united in the view that Nigeria and title holdersÃ‚Â ZambiaÃ‚Â will fight to top the table, leaving the Burkinabe and the Ethiopians scraping to avoid finishing bottom.
“We are not bothered by the names — our only focus is to win,” Said told AFP after a training session during a build-up that brought home victories over Niger andÃ‚Â TanzaniaÃ‚Â and a draw against former championsÃ‚Â TunisiaÃ‚Â inÃ‚Â Qatar.
World Cup qualifying rivals South Africa and theÃ‚Â Central African RepublicÃ‚Â can vouch for his ability as he scored the three goals that earned a 1-1 draw in Rustenburg and a 2-0 win in Addis Ababa.
“Saladin is very skilful, technically strong. speedy and takes up good positions because he reads the game well,” was the verdict on a player likely to be much better known by the time Ethiopia exit the Africa Cup.
A five-star showing from the Ethiopian poster boy at the 22-day championship will leave Serb clubs Partizan and Vojvodina red faced as they brought Said for trials three years ago only to reject him.