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Sunday, October 14, 2012 was a special day for the soccer loving masses. It was a sensational day of excitement, inspiration and jubilation. The simple explanation is that the Ethiopian national football team, the Wallias, booked a spot in the finals of the 2013 African Nation’s Cup with a crushing 2-0 home win over Sudan on that day at the Addis Ababa stadium.
Goals from Adane Girma at the 63rd minute mark and Saladin Seid on the 66th , ended a 31-year hiatus for Ethiopia. It was sensational because the 2-0 score line reversed the 5-3 defeat of the national team in the first leg on September 9 at the hands of the Sudanese team. For one too many, reversing that score line looked insurmountable. With a 5-5 aggregate result, the national team got its ticket to South Africa on the away-goal rule.
The excitement was so intense that it was reported around 1000 fans spent Saturday night around the stadium to be at the frontline for tickets in the morning. Many flocked to the stadium after midnight, starting at 1:00 am Sunday morning: by 8:00 am the queue had stretched out for miles in all directions. Indeed, it was a site to behold.
Emotions were high until the match began at 4:00pm. When the two sides remained goalless at half time, many soccer fans thought that Sudan had a better chance of going through,when suddenly, Adane opened the scoring 18 minutes into the second half after missing some clear-cut opportunities. The atmosphere changed abruptly, in favor of the Ethiopian side. Three minutes later the brilliant Saladin Seid secured the winner. All in all, it was a great display of determination and national spirit.
The huge crowd at the stadium erupted with joy after the second goal, knowing that the Ethiopian team would automatically qualify if the game ended with that score line. Thousands of people watching the live transmission on big screens at places like the Meskel square, the centre of Piazza and Megenagna began marching to the stadium singing a victory song.
The injury, at the 85th minute, to the Ethiopian goalkeeper, Jemal Tasew, who was taken to the hospital after an accident on the field, was worrisome because the injury was grave. When he first hit the ground after he prevented the Sudanese striker, Mohamed Abdelmonem, from recovering a rather long ball passed to him, many thought it was a deliberate ploy to waste time. Hospital sources later confirmed that he was recovering well from a neck injury.
The Senegalese referee, who officiated the game, extended the injury time to eleven minutes which was practically unheard of. Just a fraction of a second after the final whistle, a ball struck by a Sudanese striker landed in the net stunning some fans, who initially panicked, fearing that it would count against Ethiopia, but it was not to be so. A ball scored after the whistle is blown is considered a ‘dead ball’, according to football regulations, so the victory of Ethiopia was assured with a young generation making history. As the Captain of the Ethiopian team, Degu Debebe puts it, “ During my lifetime no Ethiopian team has played in the African Nations Cup final. We wanted to be the generation to accomplish this feat in 31 years and we fought to turn that dream into reality. Now we have succeeded.”
This was the third time this kind of scenario has happened. The first was in 1982 when the Ethiopian national team qualified for the 13th African Nations Cup finals staged in Libya, after finishing 1-1 with the visiting Guinea team in Addis Ababa. The first leg, held in Conakry, ended in a 2-2 draw. With a 3-3 aggregate result the national team booked its ticket to Libya, on the away-goal rule. At that time, the head coach was the late Mengistu Worku. ,
Mengistu has a remarkable history in scoring two decisive goals in overtime, when the Ethiopian national team won the third African Nations Cup finals which was held in Addis Ababa in 1962, with a 4-2 win over Egypt in the final.
The second time it occurred was in December 1987 when the Ethiopian national team won the East and Central African Cup (CECAFA), beating Zimbabwe in a sensational shootout, after finishing 1-1 in the normal period and overtime. What made that game so remarkable is that the Ethiopian striker Gebre/Medhin Haile buried the equalizer a few seconds before the final whistle. When Gebre found the net many people were leaving the stadium with frustration, because Zimbabwe was leading 1-0 and it looked like their victory was a foregone conclusion.
At the end of the game, the Ethiopian national team coach, Sewnet Bishaw, said that the first leg defeat had weighed heavily on him, “but as I expected we reversed that result with a great 2-0 win in front of our fans. My boys created a number of clear scoring opportunities both in the first and second halves. Those attempts bore fruit in the second half. We got what we wanted,” he concluded.
Investors showered the young players with monetary prizes who fought for this precious win. Tekele-Berhan Ambaye was the first to do it, giving 1.5 million birr at a luncheon on Tuesday, October 16. Sheikh Mohammed Hussien Al Amoudi, generous as usual, bestowed 5 million birr on the team.