After 31 years of failing to qualify to the Final Africa Cup of Nations, Ethiopia is now participating this year’s tournament in South Africa.
It had been one of the founders of the tournament and won the cup in 1962 when only three teams competed. Although the team hopes to qualify from the group stages, it is not in a simple group. It will play against Zambia, the defending champions, plus Nigeria and Burkina Faso in Group C.
Football has been regarded as the second most popular sports in Ethiopia based on the country’s performances in athletics especially the successes of its greatest long distance runner Haile Gabrselassie who inspired many youth into his games.
This has been due to the fact that Ethiopia’s national football team has not achieved much over the years, until last October when it all changed.
This came in the form of a 2-0 win against Sudan in Addis Ababa, a win that prompted huge celebrations across Ethiopia and that ensured a place for this year Africa cup.
I asked the Ethiopian Football Federation vice president Berhanu Kebede what this means to them:
“our goal is to qualify from our group It would be a good lesson for us for the future to continue because 31 years, after long years we will be there but honestly we will do some amazing things. We will try to qualify from our group.” Vice president of Ethiopia Football Federation, Berhanu Kebede.
The team has been engaged in excessive training and friendly matches in order to be successful. It is seen to be one of the under dogs in the tournament, but will it be able to cause huge shocks and surprise us all?
The head coach of Ethiopian National Team, Sewnet Bishaw believes the rigorous training they had been involved since qualifying will improve the team’s performance and spirit.
“We are going to South Africa to play football…we want to surprise everybody there. Sometimes you need chances to train and motivate the players to go through. So now this group of players are very young and talented, they need to play now in Africa and in the world.” National Head Coach, Sewnet Bishaw.
Ethiopian squad has only three foreign based players. One of whom is swedish born former AIK club midfielder Yusuf Saleh who believes Ethiopia has a good chance in the tournament.
“I have high expectations. We’d been doing good in practice, we’d been playing some friendly games, we were good at them as well. The team is very good (Well) prepared. I was positively surprised when I came here.” Ethiopia Midfield player, Yusuf Saleh.
The fans also think Ethiopia is in the tournament for a big surprise and may at least qualify from the group stages and go as far as the semifinal. Here are some who told me what they think:
“It is a very big opportunity for all Ethiopians who like or who want to play football. As you know this team played 11 friendly games, we lost only one game. The remaining ten games we did not lose. We have big opportunity to qualify in the semifinal or quarter final from our group.” Fiseha Negaju.
“I am so happy for them, I know they can do it. I know they can do better than this and we qualify for the world cup, we are going to Brazil. We will represent Africa, we will…I won’t miss any game, If I miss that I miss my life.” Sieble Estha.
“I am thinking Ethiopians (will cause) a surprise. You know many people say now; the Ethiopians participate after 31 years that is why they don’t have experience. But I say Ethiopia is surprise.” Afawerke Addis.
Ethiopians have high hopes for the tournament even though it has to prove its worth in a difficult group that includes the defending champions, Zambia and the troubled giants Nigeria who may want to re-establish its weakened confidence after failing to qualify for the last tournament.