With the African Cup of Nations 2013 kicking off in eight days time, all attention is turned towards South Africa to see what country manages to emulate the 2012 surprise winners Zambia and lift the coveted trophy. Competition will be fierce with host South Africa, along with Ghana and Ivory Coast joining Zambia as favourites to win the tournament. However if Zambia’s win has taught us anything, the African Cup of Nations is wide open with all teams capable of causing an upset. Former champions Tunisia and Nigeria will be hoping to reclaim the trophy after a years of disappointment whilst other teams like Togo and Morocco will be thankful that 7 times winners Egypt and World Cup regulars Cameroon failed to qualify for this years event. But for one team, taking part in th African Cup of Nations is the first step in rebuilding pride in football within their country.
After a 31 year absence, Ethiopia are back in the Cup and are looking to make an impact. The winners in 1964 have a relatively inexperienced side, whose squad contains only three players who play in leagues outside of Ethiopia (Yussuf Saleh in Sweden, Saladin Said in Egypt and Fuad Ibrahim in the US), are attempting to follow in Zambia’s footsteps and upset the apple cart by winning the tournament. Having beaten Sudan on away goals to qualify, Ethiopia are out to prove that they warrant their place and are not there just to make up the numbers. Place in a Group C, they face three tough games against Nigeria, Burkina Faso and current champions Zambia with hopes of reaching the second round looking relatively slim.
Whilst expectations are low, Ethiopian football is on the up at the moment with the national team experiencing a good spell. Not only have they qualified for this tournament, they also lead Group A in the 2014 World Cup qualification. Whilst they still have along way to go, it will give the country a lift to believe that they may qualify for their first ever World Cup appearance. But for Head Coach, Sewnet Bishaw and his team, the focus is 100% on the African Cup of Nations for now. With a host of good young players making up the step up to national team such as striker Getaneh Kebede and fellow striker Saladin Said (the country’s record holder for the highest transfer paid), the future looks bright for Ethiopia. The youngsters are supported by the more experienced members of the squad like Adane Girma and captain Degu Debebe who are looking towards Zambia’s success last time for inspiration. Debebe, interviewed during their latest training session gave his views:
“What matters most is our strength. We saw how Zambia performed in the last Afcon. No one expected them to win the cup. They won because they played as a team and didn’t underestimate any team. We can learn a lesson from them and make possible what seems impossible. We will give our best.”
Regardless of how Ethiopia perform in this tournament and if they can make the fairytale underdog story come true and win the cup, their country will be proud of what this young team has achieved. With each game comes more experience and the longer these players play together, the better they will become. If they can continue their existing form, then maybe they might just shock a few teams at this years event and help to write yet another chapter in their football history.