byÃ‚Â Collins Okinyo
Many pundits may have known Ethiopia for its prowess in athletics rather than football.
Yet many will agree with me that, despite the expected Fifa disciplinary action where the Walia Antelopes will be docked three points for using an ineligible player (Teshome Beyene) against Botswana, they are still the best side in group A. Despite the oversight by the federation they deserve kudos for a job well done.
Ethiopia’s rise has not been a fluke as many may think. What we are seeing now is the manifestation of their bright and positive performance in the 2013 Afcon, hosted by South Africa, where they stunned everyone with their superb game.
Under the tutelage of Coach Sewnet Bishaw, Ethiopia are proving to be a football powerhouse in East Africa and across Southern Africa and Central Africa, causing panic among champions, such as such as South Africa, who lost to them in Addis Ababa in theWorld Cup qualifiers.
Talking to the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) president and the coach on the secret of their great success, their answers were the same; unity, teamwork, hard work and commitment. One major aspect that left me surprised and elated is that they believe that the name in front of the jersey (ETHIOPIA) is more important than the name at the back of the jersey. This means they do not believe in playing as individuals but rather as a team.
Talking of Walia Antelopes, it is important to touch on the passionate fans, who have stood by the team and believed in them. I was in Addis Ababa for the do-or-die match between Ethiopia and South Africa and the atmosphere at the national stadium was breathtaking. I can say that in my entire football life I have not witnessed such a passionate, cheering and massive crowd of supporters. They spent the previous night by the stadium waiting for tickets for the match. It was an awesome experience indeed.
Walia Antelopes could well be the first team in East Africa to qualify for the World Cup, having gone unbeaten so far in the group stages. This is a dream that not many pundits foresaw, especially for a country that some years back was hardly known in football circles,
Irrespective of the expected verdict from Fifa about fielding the ineligible player, the Walias have demonstrated a high level of discipline and unity that is cultivating fruits of success within the team.
I salute their EFF, the players, the coach and the fans for the morale they have wired into the boys. I only wish other East African countries could emulate it.