Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

The rise of Women’s football

The match between the Ethiopian national soccer women’s team, called Lucy, and the Egyptian counterpart in Addis Ababa two weeks ago was not a good one for the prediction industry. Against all odds, the national team thrashed the Egyptian side four to nothing.
This was a soccer match for the 10th African Women’s Cup qualifier. In the first leg held in Cairo, Egypt beat the national side 4-2. Prior to the second leg few expected that there was a possibility of beating the Egyptian side 2-0 which is enough to send the national side to the next round. Knowing that there is an away goal rule, scoring two goals on the Egyptian turf was a clear advantage.
There were also doubts that winning over the Egyptian side is difficult even with a close margin. Egypt, commonly called the pharaoh – the title of the ancient Egyptian ruler, is a land of football, in the men’s gender. When the African football Confederation was formed in 1957 Egypt was one of the founding fathers along with Ethiopia and Sudan. South Africa was the fourth country in that process but was forced to leave because of its apartheid policy. Egypt won the first African cup held in Sudan in 1957. The country won a record seven times up to the 27th African Nation’s Cup staged in Angola in 2010. The distant second best team is Ghana which has four African Cup titles.
The assumption is simple and clear. Be it the women’s side or the men’s side, it is difficult to beat a national team that comes from a country which dominates the continent. 
Despite this assumption, it was very easy for the Ethiopian women’s side to harvest goals against the strong Egyptian side. It is indeed pretty excellent. But we shouldn’t come to the conclusion that the Ethiopian national women’s team had this achievement by mere chance or accident.
If the past is any guide, this is a national side that was close to qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics a few months ago. In the Olympic qualifiers the national side beat the strong Ghanaian team before they were knocked out by South Africa with an aggregate 4-2 result. A win over South Africa would have given them a ticket to London.
Reaching that final stage in the Olympic qualifiers or in any competition is a sign of strength. So one could say that the national women’s side deserved a win over the pharaoh. 
The difference is the margin. Coming back from a 4-2 deficit and winning with 4-0 margin was little expected prior to the match.
Despite the win, it is possible to raise one question: Will the national side sustain this victory? It may be difficult to give a conclusive answer. What we know for sure is that the Ethiopian football lacks sustainability.
In the men’s event, Ethiopia and Egypt began taking part in the first African Cup of Nations in 1957 in which Egypt beat Ethiopia in the final to lift the first trophy. Egypt won the second cup held in Cairo. But their three straight wins were broken when the Ethiopian national team beat them 4-2 during the third African Cup final held in Addis Ababa in January 1962.
But fifty years after that historic win the national side stood with only that victory while Egypt added five African Cups. The most dramatic one was the three straight win of Egypt in 2006, 2008 and 2010 to keep the trophy for them. To the surprise of many Egypt didn’t qualify for the ongoing African Nations Cup. It is the first time for Egypt to miss the African Cup of Nations final in the competitions 55 years history.
The most striking story on the part of the national side is that they have never participated in the African Cup of Nations for the last 30 years failing in the qualifiers. The last time Ethiopia participated was in the 13th African Cup of Nations held in Libya in 1982. This shows the gap between the national side and the Pharaohs.
This time the Pharaohs were crushed 4-0 in Addis Ababa. The men’s side equally crushed Egypt 4-2 in Addis Ababa exactly 50 years ago by the Ethiopian side. Will the Ethiopian women’s side repeat the weaknesses that their men’s side had shown in the lapse of 50 years or will they improve that trend?
The hope is that it is possible to change the trend with all odds. The country doesn’t have more than five women’s clubs who participate in the regular competition: Mekelakeya, Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), Banks, Dedebit and Coffee. The five clubs may not continue competing in the league. The possibility of dispersal is high as it was seen in the past. The recent dispersal of the Central University College is just a case in point. Taking this in to account there are about 150 women’s players in the country. Actually the current national team players are selected from two clubs. Well in football this is possible. Most of the 2010 World Cup winners, the Spanish national soccer team players were selected from Barcelona. So selecting national players from one or two teams is no exception for Ethiopia. But the problem with Ethiopia is the number of players is very limited. That doesn’t give a wider option for selection.
The fear is that the Ethiopian women’s football will not continue the progress as for example the Egyptian men have done.  For now apart from these assumptions, the women’s side has made progress to the next round. For doing this the players and coaches were given money prizes to encourage them in their next match against Tanzania in May. If they succeed they will qualify for the 10th African Women’s Cup that will be held in Equatorial Guinea.
Though Tanzania is a strong regional team, the national side is the hot favorites to go through to the final.