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As the Afcon draws near, Goal Nigeria begin examining the three teams that will form their group stage opposition for Stephen Keshi and his Super Eagles

Appearances at the Cup of Nations: 10

1957, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1976, 1982, 2013

Best ever performance: 1962

Victory, in only the third ever Cup of Nations, is Ethiopia’s crowning glory in continental competition.

Famous moment in Afcon history

The 1962 Afcon on home soil involved nine teams, with four eventually qualifying for the finals. After besting Tunisia in the Semis, an Ethiopian team skippered by legendary defender Luciano Vassalo came up against the United Arab Republic in the final. An exciting final spilled over into extra time with little to separate the pair after a 2-2, eventually, willed on by home support, Ethiopia showed their superiority in added time. Luciano’s brother, Italo, and Mengistu Worku the heroes at the Haile Selassie stadium. The emperor himself was in attendance and presented the trophy to his victorious countrymen.

Qualification

Tense and tight are two words that could aptly be used to describe Ethiopia’s qualifying process for this year’s Afcon. Initially paired with West African minnows Benin in the first round, they laboured at home, failing to find the net and playing out a stalemate. An early goal by Michael Poté in Cotonou threatened to destabalise the Black Lions, but the team rallied and scored before the stroke of half time – Adane Girma the hero, sending the team through on away goals.

                In the second round, the Ethiopians were drawn against Sudan. With their neighbours having impressed en route to the Afcon Quarter-final in 2012, few fancied the Walya Antelopes to overcome their fierce rivals. Indeed, a fast and furious first leg in Khartou saw Ethiopia’s backline savaged by the Sudanese attackers. Conceding initially inside 7 minutes, the Black Lions fought back through Getanah Kebede, but the Falcons of Jediane showed their superiority by racing into a 3-1 lead before half time. In an incredible second half, the visitors fought back, first through Kebede, then through Girma, before a late brace from Al-Hilal frontman Muhannad El Tahir looked to seal things up for the home side.

                The decisive leg, back in Addis Ababa, would be decisive, with Ethiopia needing to score two more than their opposition, and find the powers to subdue the Sudanese forwards. Incredibly, they managed it; two goals inside a remarkable 5 minutes in the second half stunned the away side, who were unable to find a response. Nerves bubbled over, before euphoria reigned, as the Black Lions qualified on away goals after a 5-5 aggregate score.

The Team

Out of the continental spotlight for over 30 years, and with a squad that almost exclusively play their football in the country’s domestic league, it’s safe to say that Ethiopia are short on experience and on recent international pedigree. Conceding 5 away in Sudan will be concerning, especially considering the Nigerian firepower they will encounter in the group, but the resiliency and fight demonstrated to overturn their Sudanese deficit, as well as a recent draw with South Africa, will encourage fans.

The Manager: Sewnet Bishaw

Upon succeeding Belgian Tom Saintfiet in October 2011, after Ethiopia conceded a winning position to draw with Nigeria, few will have foreseen Sewnet Bishaw guiding the national side to their first Cup of Nations since 1982. However, the manager has quietly impressed since taking over 2 years ago, making the most of his localised resources and capitalising on the country’s domestic talent base. A draw against South Africa in June confirmed Ethiopia’s place once more among the footballing sides the continent needs to be taking seriously. It was a point made by the manager himself, who found his stock rise after the defiant performance.

                Identified by Goal.com as a ‘veteran tactician’ and a ‘respected coach’, Bishaw enjoyed two previous years as national coach, when he guided a selection of local players to victory at the 2005 CECAFA Cup. Even a sliver of that success this time around would make him a hero in Addis.                

Skipper: Degu Debebe

At 28, Debebe is one of the ‘old heads’ in a remarkably young squad. The experienced performer’s capacity to captain the side and organise his young charges may determine whether the Black Lions roar at the Afcon, or whether they are rabbits in the headlights, startled by the higher class of opposition.

                Having played with Ethiopia’s premiere club side, St George, since 2004, the centre back has proved himself to be one of the finest defenders in the country, but the Cup of Nations will be a new test altogether.

Key Player:  Adane Girma

Having been chiefly responsible for the goals that secured Ethiopia’s passage to the Cup of Nations, Adane Girma will be relishing the prospect of pitting his attacking wits against the continent’s finest defenders. Formerly a defensive midfielder, the St George man has flourished after converting to playing as a striker late in his career. Currently in his sixth year with the Ethiopian side, the versatile star has been a pivotal figure in their four recent Premier League victories, and has also enjoyed some brief forays into the CAF Champions League.

One to Watch: Fuad Ibrahim

One of the few Ethiopian players not to play in the country’s domestic league, Ibrahim is a young striker capable of making an impact late in games. Known as ‘Ibee’, he is a recent inclusion into the national side, after impressing for his club. Once a feature of the USA youth teams, Ibrahim declared his interest in playing for the land of his birth after moving to NASL club Minnesota Stars. He scored his first goal for his new nation in a recent friendly victory over Tanzania.

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