NELSPRUIT — After a 31-year absence at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), Ethiopia launch their campaign for the diadem with a tricky fixture against the defending champions today.
Report by Reuters
Ethiopia will be welcomed to the continental fold after a lengthy absence with a fixture against defending champions, Zambia.
The “Walya Antelopes” surprised everyone — perhaps including themselves — by securing a berth at the 2013 Afcon at the expense of neighbours Sudan.
The East African country failed to convince the regional fanatics of their abilities after a drab performance during the regional Cecafa tournament held in November 2012 led to a quarter-final exit, but the impressive results registered in the latest build-up games, especially the 2-1 win over Tanzania, dictate more promise.
The talent is almost all home-based, from the club sides Dedebit, Defence and Saint George. Just one professional plays club football outside Ethiopia — star striker Saladin Said, who features in the Egyptian Premier League.
The opening fixture will be crucial for both sides and Zambia, who have vowed to defend their title at all costs, are seeking no less than three points.
Head coach Sewnet Bishaw, who has been in charge since November 2011, believes Ethiopia’s relative anonymity can help them spring a surprise in a group that contains holders Zambia, as well as Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
The players, having become national heroes through qualifying, do not want their journey to end in the group stage.
“We know Nigeria and Zambia are strong opponents, but they should not forget we qualified by beating Sudan, who played at the 2012 Cup of Nations,” said 27-year-old striker Adane Girma at a Press conference.
“In the past, we had problems in beating opponents in away matches. Now this is history. Psychologically, we have shown encouraging improvements, and as a result we also have a chance to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.”
Much of the weight of expectation will lie squarely on the shoulders of Girma and attacker Fuad Ibrahim.
Zambia tactician Hervé Renard has chosen to work with a majority of the squad that clinched the Afcon title in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon last year.
Captain Christopher Katongo, TP Mazembe’s Stopilla Sunzu and English-based Emmanuel Mayuka are the players to watch in this match.