New striker Fuad Ibrahim boosts Ethiopia
Ethiopia defeated fellow qualifiers Niger 1-0 in Addis Ababa and drew 1-1 with former champions Tunisia in Doha in other preparatory matches ahead of a return to the Cup of Nations after a 31-year absence.
The Antelopes — named after an endangered breed unique to the east African country that roams northern-region mountains — face Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Zambia at the African tournament.
Defending champions Zambia and twice winners Nigeria are considered near certainties to fill the top two mini-league places and qualify for the quarter-finals.
But veteran coach Sewnet Bishaw has dismissed the ‘whipping boys’ tag attached to his team and repeatedly warned that stars like striker Saladin Said could trouble the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) and the Super Eagles.
Nigeria goalkeeper Austin Ejide faces a race against the clock to be fit for the first round match against the Burkinabe after tearing a thigh muscle during a midweek draw with Cape Verde Islands in Portugal.
Coach Stephen Keshi said the problem should heal in about eight days and further time would be needed to ensure the Israel-based shot-stopper was ready for the rigours of a potential six fixtures within 22 days.
Atter goalless draws against Catalonia in Spain and Cape Verde, Nigeria play Dutch club FC Rotterdam behind closed doors this weekend in a final warm-up before travelling to the north-eastern South African city Nelspruit.
Meanwhile, Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah has dispelled fears that midfielder Anthony Annan could miss the Africa Cup after retiring injured in a 3-0 win against Egypt in Abu Dhabi.
Appiah, who has lost midfielder Andre Ayew and striker Yahaya Mohamed to injuries, said the injury was not a “big deal” and Annan should be fit to face Tunisia Sunday if chosen.