By Zecharias Zelalem
In what is perhaps the biggest upset of the 2018 CAF Confederations Cup thus far, Ethiopian upstarts Wolaita Dicha emerged shock winners of their two legged first round tie, overcoming Zamalek of Egypt in a penalty shootout at Al Salam Stadium in Cairo. The Bees of Kawa Tona lost 2-1 in regulation time. With the aggregate score tied 3-3, the game went to a shootout. Wondwossen Geremew stooped low to easily stop a tame effort by Mahmoud Abdel Aziz to win 4-3 on penalties and dump the Cairo side out of the competition. The reigning Ethiopian Cup champions progress to the playoff round where a draw will determine their next opponent. For Zamalek, it is their worst ever end to a Confederations Cup campaign in the club’s history.
Zamalek have been handed defeats by Ethiopian clubs on various occasions. But it is the first time they have been eliminated from cup competition by an Ethiopian side. Wolayta Dicha meanwhile, are embarking on their first ever African continental campaign only eight months after winning their first major honour, the 2017 Ethiopia Cup. Pundits expected the Ethiopian minnows, who only just escaped being relegated from the Ethiopian top flight last season, to be dismantled by their prolific opponents.
Wolaita Dicha came into the tie hoping to cling onto a slim lead courtesy of their 2-1 victory at Hawassa Stadium. Zamalek, needing just a single goal to seal the tie in their favour, went for the jugular from the get go. With barely a minute in, Burkinabe import Maarouf Youssef deceived his marker before launching a cross into the box that goalkeeper Wondwossen came for and completely missed. Luckily for him, defender Tesfu Elias was on the end of it and cleared it to safety. The Ethiopians were on the back foot as they attempted to survive onslaught after onslaught by the White Knights. Mahmoud Abdel Aziz worked his way into space before firing on goal although his effort was held by Wondwossen.
Half an hour into the game, Egyptian international Basem Morsy turned his man and created an opening for himself at the edge of the box. Despite having time and space, he skied his attempt that really should have at least tested the goalkeeper. Wolaita Dicha were often left chasing the ball and unable to deal with forays down either flank. A rare flicker up front for the bees ended with Amrela Deltata wasting possession in the final third after some wonderful skill to get away from his marker. His attempted cross was out of reach of his teammates and went out of play.
Despite their dominance, Zamalek had faulty refereeing to thank for their taking the lead. Teklu Tesfu Elias was adjudged to have handled the ball in the area and Kenyan referee Davies Omweno pointed to the spot. The Ethiopian players hounded the referee furious with the decision. Television replays quite clearly show the ball coming off the Wolaita Dicha defender’s back and nowhere near his hand. But Omweno, standing approximately twelve yards away and with a good view of the action, somehow saw it fit to award a penalty. Omweno is the same referee that was suspended by CAF in 2016 for his poor refereeing decisions during a World Cup qualifier between Libya and Tunisia.
Ahmed Madbouli stepped up and calmly rolled the ball past the keeper to give his side the lead on the stroke of halftime.
The second half started and Wolaita Dicha coach Zenebe Fisseha knew his charges now had the colossal challenge of scoring at the Al Salam Stadium in order to reach the playoff round. The difficulty of the overall task was compounded only minutes into the second half, Ahmed Madbouli struck again. The playmaker went on a slalom run that took out two defenders before unleashing a fantastic strike from a rather tight angle that flew into the top right corner and beyond the reach of the outstretched Wondwossen Geremew. The home support erupted, it was now 2-0 in Cairo, and 3-2 on aggregate. For a Wolaita Dicha side that looked shaky in possession and could barely carve out anything going forward, things looked very bleak.
Nevertheless, the aggregate lead was cancelled almost as fast as it came. Haymanot Worku earned a free kick for his team that was whipped into the box by Tesfu Elias. Zamalek goalkeeper Ahmed El Shenawy failed to read the ball’s trajectory and missed the cross, leaving the completely unmarked Wolaita midfielder Abdulsemed Ali to head the ball into the unguarded net. The Ethiopians finally drew blood, silencing the Zamalek support and clawing their way back into the tie. 3-3 on aggregate, Abdulsemed’s acrobatic goal celebration and the dream being very much alive was reason for the sprinkling of Wolaita Dicha supporters at the Al Salam Stadium to make their support vocal once more.
Wolaita Dicha resilience increased as time went by and the seemed to have somewhat found their mettle in the middle of the park, when just past the hour mark they survived another scare. This time Ghanaian Nana Poku’s fiercely struck shot was nearly fumbled towards goal by Wondwossen. The Wolaita Dicha keeper managed to redirect it out for a corner. He remained on the top of his game for the remainder of regulation time, picking crosses out of the air as Wolaita Dicha had all hands on deck in the final minutes. An injury time free kick from where crossing and striking terrains intersect was presented as the last chance to put the Bees to the sword, but the White Knights couldn’t unsheathe it by the referee’s whistle blast for the end of the ninety. Onwards to the penalty shootout.
The first six attempts were all successful, with Togolese import Djako Arafat, scorer of Wolaita Dicha’s first ever goal in continental competition, slotting straight down the midde. Temesgen Duba, goalscorer Abdusemed Ali and Teklu Tafesse also converted for the Bees. But midfielders Ayman Hefni careened his spot kick off the crossbar, before Wondwossen Geremew emerged the hero for the Ethiopians, stopping Mahmoud Abdel Azziz’s attempt and winning the tie for Wolaita Dicha.
The result is an extremely disappointing one for the White Knights, who have won their last seven matches in the Egyptian top flight of which they currently sit in third place.
Wolaita Dicha who sit in eighth in the Ethiopian Premier League, celebrate their treading into unchartered waters and becoming the first Ethiopian side to eliminate the mighty Zamalek from African competition. For many Ethiopian football fans, today’s result is therapeutic as it serves to exorcise the demons of 2013, when Zamalek inflicted a heartbreaking defeat against St. George in CAF Champions League play with a goal in the final minutes of regulation time at Addis Ababa Stadium.
Wondwossen Geremew was the hero last July when his penalty saving heroics saw them wrestle the Ethiopian Cup trophy away from Defence Force FC in the final at the rain soaked muddy Addis Ababa Stadium pitch. His penalty saving heroics yesterday meanwhile saw the virtually unknown Southern Ethiopian outfit hailing from the lush greenery of Sodo, Ethiopia, claim the scalp of one of the most renowned African football clubs. As fans and players of Zamalek filed out of the Al Salam Stadium, Wolaita Dicha players celebrated deliriously with their fans, who were clad in Ethiopian national team jerseys and the Wolaita people’s traditional colours and emblems. Those affiliated with the club are without a doubt living the dream.
Author: Zecharias Zelalem is a contributor for Ethiosports.