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Fifty years ago, they were among the most feared sides on the continent, playing in the first seven Nations Cup tournaments, beating sides like Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Algeria without much effort.
That dominance, which produced the likes of Menguistu Worku, Luciano and ItaloVassalo, may now have been revived.
In June, they drew 1-1 away with South Africa, after taking the lead in a World Cup qualifier. That performance caused Ethiopian fans to sit up, put aside their obsession with the big European leagues and take notice of the national team once again. Sewnet believes that qualification for South Africa will change the attitude of the country’s footballing community. “Everybody is happy after this qualification,” he said.
“Clubs will now start to focus on youth football. This will spread to every corner of the country and football will bring everybody together.”
Ethiopia’s short passing game, combined with individual flair and self-conviction, is the cocktail concocted by coach Sewnet. His largely home-based side is now endowed with tremendous self-belief, not least of them being the previously shaky but now ever-reliable goalkeeper Sisay Bancha.
Saladin Said, who scored the vital second goal against Sudan, is the only member of the side who plays outside Ethiopia – for the Egyptian Premier League side Wadi Degla. His goals have made him a household name.
According to the Ethiopian calendar, 11 September 2012 was New Year’s Day welcoming 2005. The previous year had ended dramatically with the double mourning of the former Prime Minister MelesZenawi and the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Abuna Paulos, both of whom passed away within days of each other.
But the Antelopes and their fans can now find consolation, as their New Year has begun with one of Ethiopia’s biggest successes in half a century.