m_Africa Cup

Ethiopia’s quest to qualify for a second successive Africa Cup of Nations begins on Saturday when they host Group B rivals Algeria in Addis Ababa.

The East Africans may have exited the 2013 Afcon in the group stage, but at least it ended a 21-year hiatus from the tournament.

Ethiopia have prepared for the start of the qualifiers by staging a three-week training camp in Brazil, something coach Mariano Barreto believes has been of great benefit.

“When we decided to go to Brazil it was not only to prepare for the match against Algeria. We have six matches in the qualifying series. The match against Algeria is just one in the series,” Barreto said.

“The basic reason of the mission was to expose the players to the standard of football in Brazil. I’m sure the players really realised their place in the world of football. The difference between Ethiopia and Brazil is extremely wide but the lessons were extremely useful.

“It was a good preparation. The team that played better and we hope it will aid us to the three points against Algeria. The players are likely to display a better football.”

Algeria, currently ranked the top side in Africa alongside Ivory Coast, also crashed out of the 2013 finals in the group phase.

The Fennec Foxes recently confirmed the appointment of new coach Christian Gourcuff, who has taken over from 2014 World Cup hero Vahid Hallihodzic.

The Frenchman has been hit by withdrawals from his first Algerian squad, but is nonetheless confident of a strong performance in East Africa.

“We have very little time to prepare for these two games, including the match against Ethiopia on Saturday. It also has a lot of players who played Sunday and arrived late yesterday, so they [need] recovery,” said Gourcuff on Tuesday.

“Even today, they are in the recovery phase so that we will only have one day of preparation. This is one of the vagaries of the calendar. We will have a day tomorrow with twice daily workouts that will mainly focus on the tactical aspects of the preparation of Saturday’s game.”

The coach added, “We have collected evidence on Ethiopia. We went back to the Chan qualifiers and the World Cup, but since they have a new coach, we know things can change that.

“They, too, did a warm-up match in Brazil in August. There is the problem of altitude. We are aware of but there is no specific cure. We will prepare technically and mentally to start as it should these playoffs.”

The teams have a dead-even head to record, with one win apiece and two draws from their four official matches.

Their most recent meetings were in qualifiers for the 1996 Afcon. The teams played to a goalless draw in Addis Ababa in September 1994, while the return match in Algiers in April 1995 saw the North Africans win 2-0.

Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn will take charge of the match on Saturday.

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