ADDIS ABABA — Ghana’s amazing run in the World Cup may be a source of inspiration for Africa, but it’s also providing a wake-up call for African nations to lay more emphasis on improving their football standards.
In Ethiopia, thousands of fans have turned up in droves to watch the African teams make their mark in the World Cup, providing rapturous support for Ghana when they beat the United States to reach the quarter-finals.
“Ghana is the pride of Africa,” vuvuzela-blowing Estifanos Tadesse told AFP.
“We are Africans so we support them. And of course, they’re performing very, very well.”
The team’s solid performance has spurred unanimous support behind Africa’s only remaining team, but that feat has also provided a painful reminder of the gulf that exists between their country and the continent’s top dogs.
“It wasn’t long ago that we cheered for our own team in a big competition,” Ararsa Takele, a former footballer and current high school fitness coach told AFP.
“Now we have no choice but to cheer for our fellow Africans who we used to beat a lot.
“We are miles behind Ghana or Nigeria or Egypt when it comes to the standards. Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba … Just look at their players,” said Henok Teshome, another fan.
“Our golden era in football has passed, and it is painful to know that it will be very difficult to emulate today’s big African teams.”
Disqualifications, dreadful results and internal discord have been the main attributes of Ethiopian football for the past few years, but the turmoil has not curbed enthusiasm for the beautiful game.
For fans old enough to remember the 1960s saw unprecedented success for the Horn of Africa nation, then labeled the “Brazil of Africa” for its dominant, passing play.
Ethiopia was among the founders of the continent’s governing body in the 1950s, and was also one of the three participants in the inaugural African Nations’ Cup alongside Egypt and Sudan in 1957.
Led by Luciano Vassalo, who graduated upon retirement from Italy’s famed Coverciano coaching centre with current England coach Fabio Capello, the team rallied to reach five semi-finals in six attempts, including a win in 1962.
“The emperor (Haile Selassie) was determined that the team performed well, so he was always eager to hand out lavish prizes and send injured players abroad for expensive treatment,” Ararsa recalled.
But following the emperor’s dethronement in 1974, the ongoing political upheaval of that time swiftly turned attention to other matters and the country last qualified for a senior tournament in 1982.
In 2008, the Ethiopian FA’s general assembly sacked its head Ashebir Woldegiorgis, sparking the anger of FIFA.
The resulting standoff led the world governing body to suspend the country from qualification for this year’s World Cup although the crisis has finally been resolved.
“Togo made it (in Germany 2006) while other small ones like Rwanda and Kenya are qualifying for the African Nations Cup,” said fan Asradech Tesemaiends.
“We need a good coach – we can make it if we bring Arsene Wenger or Alex Ferguson to Ethiopia.”