Ethiopian football fans are excited to see their national team return to the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in South Africa after a 31-year absence. The Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia are in Group C for the African football fiesta, along with Nigeria, Burkina Faso and defending Nations Cup champion Zambia.
Ethiopia will play Zambia January 21st in its opening match in South Africa’s northeastern city of Nelspruit. According to Ethiopia’s captain, defender Degu Debebe, his team has been inspired by the Zambians.
“We have seen how the Zambian team performed at the last AFCON,” said Degu. “No one expected them to beat the big countries and take the Cup. But they did. That is because they were playing as a team and they didn’t overestimate any team. They played their part and they gave their best. That is the secret. If you believe you can do something and give your best, nothing is impossible. Everything is possible. We can learn a lesson from them and make possible what seems impossible.”
It’s not impossible for Ethiopia to advance out of Group C, but it’s unlikely. Top African football analysts, including Sonny Side of Sports African soccer guru David Legge, are going with Nigeria and Zambia to reach the quarterfinals.
Ethiopia’s head coach, Sewnet Bishaw, realizes his players will be experiencing the Nations Cup spotlight for the first time, and he’s been trying to boost their confidence. “We have qualified after 31 years and our players are new at AFCON,” says the Ethiopian coach. “They are not new at the game, they are not new professional players, but they are new for the competition itself … But by playing different friendly matches I am sure we will make their psychology up.”
Ethiopia can get one psychological boost from being a Nations Cup pioneer. The team played at the inaugural Africa Cup of Nations in 1957, along with Egypt and host Sudan. Ethiopia won its only Nations Cup championship in 1962, when it hosted the tournament.