After an eight year hiatus from the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), the Ethiopian football national team, the Walias, became the first team to drop out of the tournament, after failing to register a win in the group stages of the competition. The Walias were unable to advance to the knock-out stage following a 1-0 defeat against Cape Verde and a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the hosts, Cameroon. The Walias only managed a draw against Burkina Faso.
Even though, the Walias were the first to arrive in Cameroon to start their preparations for the tournament earlier, their stay was cut short, becoming the first team to return home.
Various issues have been raised following the teams exit from the tournament, with inexperience taking the lion’s share of the blame.
Apart from that, several professionals raised physical fitness, tactical issues, and political instability, as the reasons behind the poor performances. However, many agree that the players need experience to manage such a tournament. 99 percent of the players were selected from the local league.
Regarding tactical failures, it was said that east African players and coaches often failed when it came to physical and tactical battles in matches with West and North African teams.
Ethiopian sports journalist and analyst for SuperSport pointed out to the BBC that, if the national team changed its playing style, they would be successful because they are already good with possession, short passes, and technical skill.
After the disappointing opener with Cape Verde, the Walias played well in the first half of their second game against Cameroon. However, that did not continue into the second half.
Ethiopian national team Coach, Wubetu Abate, via zoom, briefed local journalists following the match between Cameroon and Ethiopia.
According to Wubetu, his players had a positive feeling in the dressing room during the halftime break.
“We discussed to keep playing like the first half and we had a positive feeling. We believed we could score another goal. Unfortunately, our performance decreased after 50 minutes and conceded four goals,” Wubetu said.
Furthermore, Wubetu repeatedly raised his player’s lack of experience and the need for more jobs to be done to develop the experience of the players. He also pointed out that the team was physically poor and that player’s needed to work relentlessly to improve their physical fitness.
However, in the last match against Burkina Faso, the Walias played with an extra verve, with Getaneh Kebede scoring the leveler via penalty.
Dawa Hottesa had another chance to score for Ethiopia but his shot from outside the box was easily dealt by Burkina Faso’s goalie.
“We had a draw, and we are disappointed we are going home. We have good young players, but we lacked experience. Our players are still all local and we hope we have learned a lot, considering the pedigree of our opponents. We need more experience and capacity in other leagues. However, we go home proud knowing that it was a very good learning curve for us,” Wubetu said, after the last match against Burkina Faso.
Elsewhere, Wubetu believes that Video Assistant Referee (VAR) had impacted the results, mentioning all had gone against them. Wubetu pointed out that his players were also not active in managing the referee’s decisions.
Ethiopian midfielder Amanuel Yohannes was named man of the match against Burkina Faso and is considered a promising talent for the next tournament.
“I am happy to get the man of the match award, but I am disappointed we did not qualify as a team to make our country proud. I wish the remaining teams all success, as we go home and try to go again,” Amanuel said.
What is next?
It has been six decades since Ethiopia won its first and only African Cup of Nations (AFCON) on home soil in 1962. The national team last took part in the competition in 2013, after a 31-year absence from the tournament, where it was unable to proceed to the group stage.
The 34th AFCON tournament is scheduled to be hosted in Ivory Coast, 18 months from now.
However, the Ethiopian national team needs far more work to be done at a club level to advance in the tournament. Many suggested that the Walias need a better structure to qualify for upcoming continental competitions.
Wubetu stated that Ethiopia has a chance to advance in the coming AFCON tournament. According to Wubetu, many young players in Ethiopia are capable to play in AFCON.
“We all know that our players are selected from local clubs. These players share their experiences from this tournament and we have also witnessed various weaknesses of our team. So, we need to work hard on our weaknesses for the next tournament,” Wubetu concluded.