Guest Post By Andreas Hansen for Addis Rumble*
It has been a long time coming. The Ethiopian national team has been rare guest at the Africa Cup of Nations. In the years after the inaugural tournament in 1957 – in which only three teams took part and Ethiopia got a wild card to the final – the ‘Walaya Antelopes’ was a dominant force in African football winning the cup in 1962 on home turf in Addis Ababa and reaching the semifinals in 1963 and 1968. However, the glorious period of the 60′s was followed by four dismal decades and not a single participation in the tournament since 1982.
This week Ethiopia is making a surprise comeback at the 2013 Cup of Nations in South Africa after knocking out neighboring rivals Sudan through an aggregate 5-5 draw in the final qualification round. In the days after the qualification was secured in October last year, Addis seemed like a transformed city. Previously you would hardly notice any football celebrations in the city scape (other than of the usual English Premier League teams) but following the qualification most of the capital’s blue taxies and mini busses – usually the best way of distilling public opinion – started displaying posters of the national team with a ‘Yes We Can’ text added.
Despite being drawn in a tough group with defending champions Zambia, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, expectations are high in Addis. The manager of ’Abeba Grocery’, our local neighborhood bar, recently told us he was convinced that the Walayas would bring home the cup for the first time in half a century and he has even invested in a TV to be able to watch Ethiopia’s matches. At official level, the hopes for a new golden decade for Ethiopian football are just as high. A new 60,000-seat national arena is being planned along with a potential bid to host the Africa Cup of Nations in the near future.
Expectations are high in Addis and all Ethiopians seem confident that they will make it through the group stage. In my years in Ethiopia there has never been much talk about the national team but these days it’s the only talk of town, especially the $100,000 bonus promised to the players. At Addis Rumble, we keep our fingers crossed for the Walayas and we celebrate Ethiopia’s return to Africa’s finest football forum with a tour down memory lane through the photo archives. Enjoy the ride.
Footage from the 1968 Cup final between Congo and Ghana played in Addis Ababa and attended by his Emperor Haile Selassie. Congo won the game 1-0 to clinch their first Cup title while Ethiopia finished 4th.
Ethiopia play their first match in Afcon 2013 against Zambia today at 15.00 GMT.