by Piotr Chmielewski

It is much more easy to find Ethiopia when you start to search from the bottom than from the top of FIFA World Rankings. In September 2008 Ethiopian national team lost place among 100 best teams in a world and now is occupying faraway 122th position. But it does not mean that black clouds were always above Ethiopian football.

There was a time when The Walya Antelopes (because this is a nickname of national team of Ethiopia) were shining on international football scene. Also input of Ethiopian Football Association in developing sport in Africa shouldn’t be underestimate.

Football has been played on Ethiopian ground probably since 1923. At the beginning foreign communities were playing against each other – the English expatriates teaching at the Teferi Mekonnen and Menelik II Schools introduced the game to the students as extra carriculium activities. The games were being played thereafter between the area schools and the existing clubs mostly composed of foreign nationalities of Armenians, Greeks, Indians and Italians who were playing against themselves. The games were being played thereafter between the area schools and the existing clubs mostly composed of foreign nationalities of Armenians, Greeks, Indians and Italians who were playing against themselves .

Ethiopian natives started to love football not before Italian occupation. At the beginning due to Italian law, which introduce racial and religion segregation. Racist decisions of Italians affected every little thing concerning the life of the city dwellers including where and when the young men could play their football. As a result of this action Ethiopians could only play against each other without mixing them with the foreign nationals. In these times football was dividing instead of connecting people who were living in Ethiopia. Breakthrough was in 1942 with the end of Italian occupation, when Ethiopians instead of taking revenge on defeated Italians, invited them to play football.

Obviously the Italian team procrastinated on making such a decision for two reasons, for fear of any riot that may arise and the unpredictability of playing against a black team.

After two months of putting of intentionally they decided to play against Giorgis on one condition and that was that Ethiopian team must have come wearing only shorts in and around the soccer field

Historical match ended with Ethiopians’ victory. The oldest and most famous Ethiopian club – Saint George won with the Italian team 4 to 1 and opened new chapter of football in the Horn of Africa.

In 1957 Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan and South Africa established African Football Confederation (Confédération Africaine de Football – CAF) and in the same year they organized the First African Cup of Nations competition. In the finals Ethiopian team lost to Egypt 0-4 and won the silver medal. But during this tournament road to the finals was for Ethiopians very short and easy. Due to exclusion of South Africa from this competition and CAF structures (resulting from the fact that they did not accept black and white players in the same team) The Walya Antelopes won semifinal by default and final was the only game that Ethiopians played during African Cup of Nations 1957.

Until today Ethiopia has managed to win African Cup of Nations only once – in 1962 during tournament organized on a home ground. In the finals, after extra time The Walya Antelopes beat Egypt 4-2. One of the supporters celebrating this big success of the Ethiopian nation on national stadium in Addis Abeba was emperor Haille Sellassie himself.
Coach of the team which won African Cup of Nations 1962 was Ydnekachew Tessema. He is said to be “father of Ethiopian football” because all greatest moments of this sport discipline are connected with his name. Ydnekachew Tessema was an initiator of the reconciliation match with Italians, he was also a founder of Ethiopian Football Association. It was also because of his ad amant attitude, the racist authorities of South African Football Association were excluded from the CAF structures.

But he reach greatest success as a coach of national team of Ethiopia. As a great fan of Brazilian football Ydnekachew Tessema introduced very offensive style among Ethiopian players and gave African football new quality. Mainly thanks to him The Walya Antelopes won gold on African Cup of Nations in Ethiopia.

21st of January is a date of a greatest moment in Ethiopian football, but unfortunately it is also beginning of a very long period without any success in football. However, Ethiopian fans should retain hope because hierarchy in a world of international football has been recently very fragile. And it is quite possible that the time of Africa will come soon…

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