Ethiopia, among the founding nations of the Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF), has struggled to qualify for the Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) over the last few years.
The Walia Ibex had to wait for 31 years to qualify for their last showpiece in South Africa 2013, where they unfortunately had to exit from the group stages. They had to wait for eight more years till they made to next year’s Total Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
It was not an easy campaign for the East African nation, especially on the last day when they had to rely on a result from another match to assure qualification. They travelled to Abidjan to face Cote d’Ivoire needing at least a point to qualify for Cameroon.
But they were trailing 3-1 by the time the match was temporarily halted in the 80th minute, and desperately needed Niger to deny Madagascar victory in the other match which was being played concurrently in Masaina.
Everything went to script, and Ethiopia were heading to AFCON for the first time since 2013; their 11th appearance at Africa’s flagship competition.
Ethiopia’s charge for a place in Cameroon was fuelled by a brilliant run at home where they won all their matches in a brilliant way, 3-2 over Cote d’Ivoire, 3-0 against Niger and 4-0 over Madagascar.
The campaign saw some hurdles, especially when Ethiopia had to change coaches midway through. The Football Federation decided not to renew Abraham Mebratu’s contract, and in came Wobetu Abate just before the double header against Niger.
Despite the 1-0 away defeat in Niamey, Abate endeared himself with a vital 3-0 victory at home in the corresponding fixture.
This home victory was a source of inspiration for the whole team but Abate had to navigate a tricky preparatory stage from then on, with the Ethiopian Premier League in full flight.
He introduced a new training format, with national team players summoned during short breaks, starting with a cycle of three-day, six-day then ultimately nine-day training camps before the vital match against Madagascar.
Having won that match, all hope was now on the final game against Cote d’Ivoire, and Niger to do them a favour.
“I was wishing that the match would be played at 16:00 (GMT) because playing at 13:00 was very challenging,” Ethiopia skipper Getaneh Kebede said. “The weather was very tough for us with heat and humidity. Before the game, I wanted us to go with courage.”
“I had hoped for one point, but it was not possible. However, the most important thing for us is that we qualified and that is all we needed. I am really happy to have been part of the team that achieved this qualification,” he added.
For the well experienced Kebede, it might have been easy to prepare for such a massive game, but it was not a similar case with youngsters. Twenty-years-old Abubaker Nasser admits it was stressful for him before the match.
“I could not sleep at all that night. I left my room and sat at the hotel reception. I just went to bed at around 3 am and was up by 6 am already. But at the end, I am happy that we qualified and that I was part of that campaign,” said Nasser.
Coach Abate is now looking forward to going to Cameroon with the best squad to hold the name of Ethiopia.
“Our people absolutely love football, and we have achieved our Africa Cup of Nations dream to make them happy. The Ethiopians deserve this. Now our focus is to build on our team. We will prepare well for the upcoming AFCON as well as the World Cup qualifiers in June,” said Abate.
Ethiopia will face South Africa, Ghana and Zimbabwe in Group G of the journey to FIFA World Cup, Qatar 2022.