Saladin Said stars for mystery team Ethiopia

Saladin Said
Saladin Said

JOHANNESBURG: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger challenged English football journalists recently to name just five of the Ethiopia squad bound for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.

The Frenchman 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,” Wenger told reporters during a lighter moment at a Gunners’ media conference.

While the media probably would have battled as Ethiopia are returning to the Africa Cup after a 31-year absence spent mainly in the football backwaters, Saladin Said 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 of northern Ethiopia — emerged from the shadows.

After finishing leading domestic scorer for in 2008 and 2009 with Addis Ababa club Saint George, Said moved north to Egypt when unfashionable Wadi Degla forked out a paltry $240,000 (180,000 euros) by European standards.

The move sharpened the predatory instincts of a footballer born in western town Asosa 24 years ago and hopes are high in the Horn of Africa nation that he can torment 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 holders Zambia 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 and Tanzania and a draw against former champions Tunisia in Qatar.

World Cup qualifying rivals South Africa and the Central African Republic 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.

Former Belgium star Walter Meeuws has coached Said and speaks glowingly about the goal poacher who slammed five past Djibouti outfit Port in a regional club tournament two years ago.

“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.

Source: AFP