Ethiopia leaves a mark in return to African Cup
TALES AZZONI AP Sports
RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) — 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.”
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