The Ethiopian women footballers are keeping themselves alive in the Africa Cup of Nations. The match between the Ethiopian women’s squad and their Tanzanian rivals was transmitted through radio from Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital. The radio commentator, who seemed carried away with his own emotions and lacked brevity and precision in describing the actions on the pitch, had kept listeners in suspense for quite a long while.
The Ethiopian squad was described as playing an attacking style of football and had created many chances to score goals. But, it was Birtukan G. Selassie’s vital score that saved the day to give a sigh of relief and an opportunity to dream about the future. That moment erupted with the joy and excitement of millions of football fans.
The victory can be taken as double-edged. This is a squad that was not accorded much notice for over a decade. The young girls, therefore, had to climb up the ladder to face the challenge of proving their worth to the officials of the Ethiopian Football Federation.
The other challenge was, of course, to try to win the match and earn a place among their African sisters, wearing their tricoloured jerseys. Both objectives were accomplished convincingly. It is only hoped that their victory will inspire them to take on the forthcoming challenges and make history.
Speaking of history, the result is historic for women of the nation, as they are not given due respect and recognition, despite their share of the population of the country.
Dinknesh (Lucy), the homosapien discovered in Afar Regional State, Ethiopia, is symbolically depicted as the mother of all, pictured and drawn as a beautiful lady. Ethiopia’s exposure to the rest of the world through Queen Sheba (who had made the legendary voyage to Jerusalem), Derartu Tulu, Fatuma Roba, the Dibaba sisters, and Meseret Defar are cases in point. Queen Fura, the notorious Yodit or Gudit as she is referred to, Empress Taitu, the founder of Addis Abeba who helped lead troops in the historic Battle of Adwa, also have special places in Ethiopian history.
Shouldering such a historical legacy, the way the Ethiopian women footballers played their game to qualify for the quarterfinal was simply magnificent. The small but pretty girls used their brains to outplay their counterparts by running faster and dribbling, as well as holding the ball before making accurate passes and kicks.
Most of them are said to have qualifications at the collegiate level. They have shown that knowledge is no less important than physical build, with most of them standing only 1.6 metres tall and less than 60kg in weight. Behind their victories and glory, it should be noted that there are always passionate individuals who have shown their unflinching commitment to do everything that can be done to win the game. The two coaches, Abraham T. Haimanot and Berhanu Gizaw, are owed a lot, while football fans who have endured through every past defeat are to be congratulated in earnest.
The women footballers were accorded a ceremonial reception by Ethiopian Football Federation officials, parents, and football-loving residents of the capital. A significant amount of money was also outlaid to be shared by the members of the squad and associates.
The reception was also crowned with news, which they were delivered upon arrival at Bole Airport. The news was of the triumphant qualification of the men’s team, the Walias, placing them only 180 minutes of play away from the next venue. The match was held in Benin.
The Ethiopians had to play the game without the almost indispensible Saladin Said, the injured striker who made all the difference in the previous games, a household name these days.
The match was screened by national television. The rival team was outplaying the Ethiopian squad, and fans were filled with some degree of trepidation and uncertainty. Indeed, the Ethiopian players were advised by Coach Sewnet Bishaw to stand their ground and play defensively.
The Benin team took the lead by scoring the first goal in a matter of about 20 minutes. Their players were fast and filled with a spirit of self-confidence. That exacerbated apprehensions back home with every passing minute.
Ethiopian players could not put up much resistance to keep the Benin attackers at bay. The Benin players were much better in their skills and organisation than when they were here in Addis Abeba during the first match. The Ethiopian goalkeeper saved the team from embarrassment. But it was Adane Girma’s shot towards the final part of the game that made the difference.
Incidentally, the goalkeeper and the captain of the team, perhaps for the first time in decades, looked in the eyes of the referee and some members of their counterparts to speak their mind without fear or shyness. The goalkeeper in particular, newcomer as he may be, tried to optimise his time of keeping the ball in control, thus, calming his teammates in the process, a common tactic applied to consume as much time as possible. He was able to drag the game to a successful close even if seven extra minutes seemed to be extended (to the advantage of the home team).
The quest for ensuring Ethiopia’s rightful place in the history of African football continues. Victory can be sustained. Who knows, the Walias could emerge as a football power in the Horn of Africa to be reckoned with.
This is a moment that Ethiopian football could have a renaissance. Inspiration is at its highest. The Federation’s decision to make it a prerequisite for all Ethiopian Premier League teams to establish women’s football teams is welcomed. There should not be any wavering on that decision. Officials have to stand firm. Certainly, football fans will back them wholeheartedly.
By Girma Feyissa