51 Years Ago Today: Ethiopia won the 3rd African Nations Cup

The winning Ethiopian team (Tekle Kidane is not in the picture)
The winning Ethiopian team (Tekle Kidane is not in the picture)

Addis Ababa – January 21st 1962, was the greatest day in Ethiopian football history. Our national team won it’s only major trophy in history. The 3rd African Cup of Nations in 1962 was hosted in Ethiopia. After a 12 team qualification, the 1-week long 4 teams tournament kicked off at Addis Ababa Stadium on January 14th 1962.

The 4 teams would play 2 semi finals, a third place playoff and the final. Ethiopia faced Tunisia, while Egypt the defending champions were paired with Uganda. Ethiopia and Egypt won their matches and made it to the final.

Previous years Egypt had defeated Ethiopia 4-0 in the final to claim the 1957 title. This time however, playing at the high altitude Haile Selassie Stadium (Now just called Addis Ababa Stadium) the Ethiopians were a skilled bunch and hungry for silverware. 25,000 fans filled the stadium and it would be worth it. One of the most entertaining games to ever be played in African football history took place.

Luciano Vassalo scored the second (Photo: Bezabeh Abetew)
Luciano Vassalo scored the second (Photo: Bezabeh Abetew)

Egypt took the lead in the 35th minute through Abdelfattah Badawi to silence the Ethiopian crowd. The Ethiopians coached by St George legend Yidnekatchew Tessema pushed on, and grabbed an equalizer in the 74th by Tekle Kidane. But seconds later Badawi struck again for Egypt and made it 2-1, and they looked on route to a 3rd straight African title before anyone else had even one.

Luciano Vassalo scored the equalizer after he received a beautiful pass his Cotton teammate Getachew Wolde.

A number of publications include CAF credit erroneously Mengistu Worku as the scorer, but it is Luciano who scored Ethiopia’s second goal. Mengistu scored the team’s 4th goal.

The exchange between Getachew Wolde and Luciano Vassalo is captured beautifully by the great Ethiopian sports photographer Bezabeh Abetew.

90 minutes are up. The score is 2-2. Extra time is added. The tension in Addis Ababa was unbearable. But the Ethiopians capitalized on an Egyptian defensive error in the 101st minute and Italo Vassalo scored to make it 3-2 and give Ethiopia the lead for the first time. And in the 117th minute, Mengistu Worku famously dribbled past 4 Egyptian players and scored Maradona style to make it 4-2 for the homeside.

Final whistle, Ethiopia 4 Egypt 2. Ethiopia were champions of Africa as well as the first Black Champions, as Egypt had won the previous two titles. Ethiopians celebrated as if they had won the World Cup. Emperor Haile Selassie handed the trophy to Ethiopia’s captain the legendary Luciano Vassalo. And the team celebrated into the night as you can see in the image.

Starting 11 1962 African Cup of Nations Final – January 21st 1962

Ethiopia played a 4-2-4 system

Goalkeeper: Gila-Michael Tekle Mariam (Adulis, Asmara)

Mengistu Worku scored Ethiopia's 4th goal (Photo: Bezabeh Abetew)
Mengistu Worku scored Ethiopia’s 4th goal (Photo: Bezabeh Abetew)

Defenders: Asmelash Berhe (Ethio-Cement, Dire Dawa), Awad Mohammed (Omedla, Addis Ababa), Berhe Goitom (Tele, Asmara) & Kiflom Araya (Tele, Asmara)

Midfielders: Tesfaye Gebremedhin (Tele, Asmarar) & Luciano Vassalo (Cotton, Dire Dawa – Captain)

Forwards: Girma Zeleke* (Cotton, Dire Dawa), Mengistu Worku (St. George, Addis Ababa), Italo Vassalo and Getachew Wolde (both from Cotton, Dire Dawa)

Manager: Yidnekatchew Tessema

Trainer: Mr. Milosevic (Yugoslavia), Adamu Alemu &  Tsehaye Bahre.

* Tekle Berhane (Tele, Asmara replaced Girma Zeleke and he scored Ethiopia’s first goal.

Author: Zecharias Etyopia. Ethiopia’s second goal information edited by Mamo Gebrehiwot