Ethiopian football at cross roads

Ethiopian national Football Team “Walias”

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – It’s only March but in Ethiopia the football fraternity is already reeling under some disappointment with local clubs, Dedebit and Defence FC both dumped out of CAF interclubs competition on the back of a poor run at Orange African Nations Championship (CHAN) by the Ethiopian national team made up of local based players. Ethiopian League champions Dedebit opened their a narrow 3-2 aggregate win over Zanzibar side KMKM in the preliminary round only to come unstuck in the first round against Tunisian side C.S Sfaxien. The Tunisians made it a second successive winning trip to Addis Ababa in consecutive years with a 2-1 against Dedebit. Last year in the Orange CAF Confederation Cup Sfaxien beat Ethiopia club side St George 3-1 in the group stage match in the same stadium. Once Dedebit was beaten at home not many expected them to won away in Sfax and the reality of no Ethiopian teams going beyond the first round loomed large.

Sfaxien won the return leg 2-0 to go through while Dedebit headed back to Addis Ababa to concentrate on domestic honours and complete a disappointing opening three months of football for Ethiopia. The country’s representatives in the Orange CAF Confederation Cup, Defence fared even worse in this year’s competition. The Army outfit succumbed to Kenya’s AFC Leopards in both games 2-1 at home and 2-0 away in Nairobi to exit at preliminary stage. Earlier in the year, Ethiopia made its debut at CHAN finals with many describing the qualification as confirmation that Ethiopian football was in ascendancy and the country was steadily climbing back to the top table of African football giants like was the case in the 60s and 70s. Ethiopia won the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 1962 during the hey days when it regularly competed at the finals and making it on medals podium frequently.

Defence FC
Defence FC

Last year 2013, Ethiopia rose from the a long time absence (31 years) from fro AFCON finals to join 15 other sides in South Africa and although the Walyas did not reach the second round their brand of football , hordes of enthusiastic fans were a welcome fresh breath to the tournament. With qualification for CHAN 2014 finals and St George’s club ‘s miss by a mere whisker to become first Ethiopian side to reach Champions’ League group stage the omens looked bright for African continent’s second largest populated country. St Georges missed out on Champions League 2013 group stage place on away goal difference after finishing 3-3 with Egypt’s Zamalek. The Addis Ababa outfit would still make history becoming first Ethiopian side to reach groups stage of the second tier CAF club competition- Confederation Cup.

Ethiopia lost all three matches at CHAN finals (2-0 to eventual winners Libya; 1-0 to both Ghana and Congo Brazzaville) and upon returning home coach Sewnet Bishaw who had led the revival was relieved of his duties and the search to replace him is underway. The debate in the country is raging with some calling on the new Ethiopian Football Federation President Junedin Basha to assure continuity by looking no further than the brace of local coaches, namely Wubetu Abate and Yohannes Tesema from the huge list of 27 that have applied for the vacancy. Among the applicants are two Italians, two Serbians, two Dutchmen and two Argentinians.

Dedebit FC

Meanwhile Dedebit head coach Nigusse Desta told that “This was our first experience in the Orange CAF Champions League with only having played in CAF Confederation Cup before. There is a difference between the two so we found out and the opponents CS Sfaxien was a very good side of high standard with great experience. We didn’t over respect the Tunisian side but gained good experience for our future international and local games. Inexperience and some silly mistakes has cost us a lot especially during the home loss while we were in a good shape for the first 45 minutes in Tunisia but again over the 90 minutes we fell short . One of the shortfalls and a key factor for the limited success for Ethiopian clubs in CAF inter-clubs competitions is the inconsistency of the league calendar and fixtures.

There simply isn’t enough space and time to help prepare well for these international matches. The second factor is that Ethiopian clubs to compete favourably at the top level of African inter-club competitions need the club structures rearranged and teams’ financial stability ensured. I personally think it will help if we have more clubs which are run privately by business minded people and l believe with the euphoria and support as well as enthusiasm that the short period of our International participation by country and clubs recently can be a spring board to build on “said Nigusse Desta.