ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia Ã¢â‚¬â€ Less than a week before the most important match in its history, EthiopiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s national soccer team trained on a wet, uneven field on the outskirts of the capital. Nearby, a woman hung her wash on a clothesline. Birds of prey circled overhead, and sometimes a plane flew past at low altitude, coming from the capitalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s busy airport, which a few months ago added a connection to Rio de Janeiro.
The timing could not have been better. Ethiopia will face Nigeria on Sunday in the first leg of one of five home-and-home playoffs that will determine the five African teams in next summerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s World Cup in Brazil. A few years after it was barred from even attempting to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, Ethiopia is two games from reaching the tournament for the first time.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have played against Nigeria many times,Ã¢â‚¬Â EthiopiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s coach, Sewnet Bishaw, said at a luxury hotel in the city center where the team has been living as it prepares for the match. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Even though Nigeria is a big nation, a big country with huge, skillful and professional players, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve become very strong in the past few years.Ã¢â‚¬Â Read more