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It’s all about consistency

It’s all about consistency

What a week it has been for the Walias. They were brought to their knees by the North African giants—the Fennecs of Algeria—on Friday after a humiliating 7-1 defeat in Blida, Algeria in the Group J, African Cup of  Nations (AFCON ) qualifier. Well, it took Yohannes Sahle’s men three days to dust off the dirt and face one of Africa’s strongest teams. And they almost turned the table around but unfortunately they could not avenge their 7-1 thrashing at the hands of the Fennecs as they were held to a 3-3 tie at the Addis Ababa Stadium. Had the result favored the Ethiopian side, it would have been a classic David vs. Goliath story.

The Algerians had Riyad Mahrez—the inform Leicester City winger— whose stunning performances in the Barclays Premier League this season have propelled Leicester towards the most unlikely of title triumphs.  They also had prolific strikers like Yacine Brahimi from FC Porto and Islam Slimani from Sporting Lisbon. By any standards, players of this capacity are expected to thump minnows like the Walias. It was supposed to be an open-and-shut-case. And the first leg encounter proved that.    

After a nine-hour transit at Egypt’s Cairo International Airport, an exhausted Ethiopian National Football Team arrived in the Algerian capital hoping to make fans back at home proud. Blida Stadium was the chosen pitch for the first round of the Group J qualifier match that will see Ethiopia face the current top seeded African team having an impressive lineup of professional players.

That was a night to forget for the Walias. The Fennecs showed the word why they are the best on the continent. They left no room for the Walias to catch their breath.  And the scoreline showed that the game was already over with the Algerian side ready to book a ticket to Gabon—the host of next year’s tournament.

But the story did not end there; not by a long shot. The two teams would meet again three days later in Addis Ababa for the second leg match. The Algerians had both the goal and psychological advantage. It would be ridiculous to imagine the Ethiopian side pulling what would be a remarkable comeback. The media and fans alike were doubtful and hoped for a narrower margin but widely accepted defeat. And who could blame them? After all the Walias were facing Algeria.

Ethiopians are diehard football fans. It is one of the few things that they are passionate about. But the result in Algeria had fans hung down in shame. Though this was not the first defeat for the Walias, the wide goal margin was a bit too much to handle.

The do-or-die moment finally came and the 30,000 spectators wearing the green yellow and red colors were definitely up for a treat. What they experienced was a different Walias. The Fennecs came from behind three times to earn a share of the spoils.

Man of Match Getaneh Kebede, who scored a brace, gave Walia a 1-0 lead on the half hour mark turning in a corner from close range. The visitors fought back relentlessly and the efforts paid off when they equalized two minutes before the break courtesy of a strike from Slimani to make the score sheet 1-1.

The Walias did not give up easily and red-hot striker Getaneh Kebede has a few tricks up his sleeves. The former Dedebit man restored Ethiopia’s lead after the break. Algeria hit back once more just after the hour mark when Aissa Mandi found the back of the net to make it 2-2 as goals kept coming.

Two minutes later Dawit Fikadu— Getaneh’s former Dedebit teammate—gave Ethiopia the lead for the third time. Dawit slotted in the ball after Getaneh’s attempt rebounded off goalkeeper Raïs M'Bolhi, but yet again it was not to be the last after a penalty goal from Faouzi Ghoulam in the 85th minute gave Algeria a hard-fought draw.

The draw sees Algeria maintain their spot at the top of the table group with ten points, followed by Ethiopia in second with five points.

Performances by team captain and veteran midfielder Shimiles Bekele and Tadele Mengesha were exceptional. And Gatoch Panom of Ethiopia Coffee executed his duties well as a holding midfielder.

The Walias showed tactical superiority against Fennecs but the question is will it be consistent?

Former head coach of the Ethiopian National Football Team, Asrat Haile, says that consistency is the Achilles heel of Ethiopian football. “The Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) should change its structure regarding coaching, training and should work at a grassroot level,” Asrat told The Reporter. “Our system is not structured cannot maintain consistency,” he says.

He also blames EFF officials for not having the passion for football. “Some have not eve played football in their entire lives,” Asrat says.

Milesha Gugsa, former Ethiopian Insurance player and is currently a sports commentator at Bisrat FM 101.1, believes that consistency comes from working with the plays from the early days of their career. “Developing players’ tactical, physical, and psychological fitness is very important for being consistent,” he says.

“In Ethiopian football the concept of coaching is not clear. When one coach is appointed for the national team it does not mean that he should work on every activity related to football in the country. We need to have various experts at club-level and the EFF,” Milesha says.

Since his appointment Yohannes suffered a 2-0 defeat by Burun but won 3-2 on aggregate. Similarly, the Walias lost 1-0 against a relatively weaker side, São Tomé and Príncipe, making it 3-1 on aggregate.

However, in recognition of their performance, the EFF awarded each payer 20,000 birr.

With Algeria leading Group J and Ethiopia following Seychelles are third in the group with four points despite their 2-1 loss to Lesotho in an early qualification match.

Lesotho are now``bottom of Group J with three points.