Ethiopia leaves a mark in return to African Cup

It was a wild return to the African Cup of Nations for Ethiopia

even though it failed to get past the group stage.

Two goalkeepers were sent off, the team’s federation was fined

because of misbehaving fans and it scored its first tournament goal

in 37 years in a surprising draw with defending champion

Zambia.

Ethiopia was a win away from advancing to the quarterfinals but

allowed two late goals against Nigeria in its final Group C match

on Tuesday to finish last.

The northeastern African country ended its participation with

one point and scored only one goal, but it still made an

impression.

”We were happy to be here,” Ethiopia coach Sewnet Bishaw said.

”What we are going to do now is learn from our mistakes and try to

be one of the best teams in Africa in the coming years.”

Ethiopia won the African Cup in 1962 but hadn’t played in the

tournament since 1982. The team arrived in South Africa with few

expectations and players admitted they were just looking to gain

some experience.

But after the surprising 1-1 draw with defending champion Zambia

in the opener, there were hopes that Ethiopia could eventually move

past the group stage. The goal was Ethiopia’s first in the

tournament in 37 years.

Ethiopia also played well against Burkina Faso until its top

players – Asrat Megersa and Adane Girma – had to leave because of

injuries, eventually leading to a 4-0 loss. A victory over Nigeria

could have still been enough, and Ethiopia was in contention until

allowing the two late goals in the 80th and 90th minutes.

”Our main problem is experience. We tried to beat Nigeria and

reach the quarterfinals, but unfortunately Nigeria was a better

team, they are highly experienced,” Sewnet said.

Ethiopia Captain Degu Debebe agreed.

”They have a lot of experience compared to us because they’ve

played in big tournaments, but I think we can give hope of a bright

future to people at home. Anything is possible,” he said.

Goalkeeper Sisay Bancha was red carded in the match against

Nigeria, repeating what had happed to regular starting goalkeeper

Jemal Tassew in the opener against Zambia. Jemal was suspended for

two matches for his reckless tackle.

The first match also cost Ethiopia a fine after fans started

throwing vuvuzelas and other objects on the field to protest. The

African federation gave Ethiopia a $10,000 fine, which was

eventually cut in half for as long as similar incidents didn’t

happen again.

In the following matches, Ethiopia fans carried a banner saying

”We apologize for our behavior, but we love the game.”

Sewnet said he thinks the fans – who loudly supported the team

in all three matches in South Africa – had plenty of reason to

celebrate despite the team’s elimination.

”I think we can say our fans are all happy now because they

have seen that their national team can play better football,” he

said. ”They didn’t see their team advance, but they were here

seeing their team in a big tournament and I’m sure in the end they

were very happy.”

Follow Tales Azzoni at http://twitter.com/tazzoni