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RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) — It was a wild return to the African Cup of Nations for Ethiopia even though it failed to get past the group stage.
Two goalkeepers were sent off, the team’s federation was fined because of misbehaving fans and it scored its first tournament goal in 37 years in a surprising draw with defending champion Zambia.
Ethiopia was a win away from advancing to the quarterfinals but allowed two late goals against Nigeria in its final Group C match on Tuesday to finish last.
The northeastern African country ended its participation with one point and scored only one goal, but it still made an impression.
“We were happy to be here,” Ethiopia coach Sewnet Bishaw said. “What we are going to do now is learn from our mistakes and try to be one of the best teams in Africa in the coming years.”
Ethiopia won the African Cup in 1962 but hadn’t played in the tournament since 1982. The team arrived in South Africa with few expectations and players admitted they were just looking to gain some experience.
But after the surprising 1-1 draw with defending champion Zambia in the opener, there were hopes that Ethiopia could eventually move past the group stage. The goal was Ethiopia’s first in the tournament in 37 years.
Ethiopia also played well against Burkina Faso until its top players — Asrat Megersa and Adane Girma — had to leave because of injuries, eventually leading to a 4-0 loss. A victory over Nigeria could have still been enough, and Ethiopia was in contention until allowing the two late goals in the 80th and 90th minutes.
“Our main problem is experience. We tried to beat Nigeria and reach the quarterfinals, but unfortunately Nigeria was a better team, they are highly experienced,” Sewnet said.
Ethiopia Captain Degu Debebe agreed.
“They have a lot of experience compared to us because they’ve played in big tournaments, but I think we can give hope of a bright future to people at home. Anything is possible,” he said.
Goalkeeper Sisay Bancha was red carded in the match against Nigeria, repeating what had happed to regular starting goalkeeper Jemal Tassew in the opener against Zambia. Jemal was suspended for two matches for his reckless tackle.
The first match also cost Ethiopia a fine after fans started throwing vuvuzelas and other objects on the field to protest. The African federation gave Ethiopia a $10,000 fine, which was eventually cut in half for as long as similar incidents didn’t happen again.
In the following matches, Ethiopia fans carried a banner saying “We apologize for our behavior, but we love the game.”
Sewnet said he thinks the fans — who loudly supported the team in all three matches in South Africa — had plenty of reason to celebrate despite the team’s elimination.
“I think we can say our fans are all happy now because they have seen that their national team can play better football,” he said. “They didn’t see their team advance, but they were here seeing their team in a big tournament and I’m sure in the end they were very happy.”
By James Montague, CNN
(CNN) — Life had not quite worked out the way Fuad Ibrahim had planned.
A few years ago the whole world was laid out at the 21-year-old American striker’s feet. Ibee, as he is known by his coaches and teammates, was considered one of the most naturally talented players ever to emerge in U.S. soccer.
He was quickly brought into the national team set up, playing in every game at the Under-17 World Cup finals. At the age of 16 he was the second youngest player ever to be drafted into the MLS. Perhaps prophetically, the youngest was Freddy Adu, a name that has become a euphemism for talent unfulfilled.
Luck, nerve, injury, temperament: no one could explain Ibee’s decline after being called up to the U.S. Under-20 squad. But decline he did as he went from Dallas to Toronto and then to his hometown club, the Minnesota Stars in the NASL — the second tier of U.S. soccer. The decline appeared terminal when he was released at the end of last season..
And then out of the blue an email arrived from the country of his birth — Ethiopia.
“It said that Ethiopia would like to invite me to play for the national team,” Ibee told CNN, speaking from his hotel room in the capital Addis Ababa.
For Africa Cup of Nations 2013 Stats: http://www.sportstats.com/soccer/africa/africa-cup-of-nations/
The Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, was the scene of massive celebrations on Sunday evening and into Monday morning after their national football team did exactly what it had to in order to qualify for the country’s first African Cup of Nations finals in 31 years.
“I can’t believe it. This is such a proud moment for this country. Ethiopia is great,” one man shouted at Bikyamasr.com as he hauled the Ethiopian flag into the air shortly after the 2-0 victory over Sudan here on Sunday evening.
Others followed suit. It was pure joy and celebrations for the country, who for decades had struggled to even make it to the continent’s top championship.
It wasn’t an easy match, however. The first half ended nil-nil, but the Walya Antelopes scored in the 63rd minute to set up the dramatic second goal only three minutes later by popular Salhadin Seid.
The team then held on for the victory and the celebrations began.
“We are on our way and this is the best thing for this country after so much turmoil in recent months,” said Atef, a Muslim Ethiopian who praised the way the country had come together.
“Right now we don’t worry about any divisions, we are all Ethiopians and proud,” he told Bikyamasr.com in the early morning hours of Monday as he and a group of friends who had attended the match were too excited to sleep.
Much of the country was similar, as cafes were crammed with smiles and happiness.
Ethiopia overcame a 5-3 deficit from the first leg in Sudan last month and came through with the 2-0 victory to punch their ticket to next year’s championship in South Africa.
For the country, in a transition period, it was a time of coming together and on Sunday evening, it showed, as women, men, children and all joined together to celebrate the qualification.
Gebrselassie overnight could only finish seventh in the 10,000 metres in an event in the Dutch city of Hengelo which Ethiopia was using as a qualifier for the Olympics.
The 39-year-old two-time Olympic 10,000m champion – who had already failed to post a qualifying time for the marathon – admitted his hopes had been dashed after his disappointing performance against 12 of his compatriots.
“The Games in London, is over for me,” he said.
“I ran a good race till the last lap. I felt good but I manifestly didn’t have the speed to compete against my rivals.
“That’s life. I am not disappointed,” added Gebrselassie, whose epic defeat of Kenyan great Paul Tergat at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, his second Olympic title, is one of the great finishes of all time. Indeed for the ever cheerful Ethiopian great it is to be his last track race.
“The ‘spikes’, it is finished for me. I am 39. I have failed to qualify for the Olympics. And there is a very strong younger generation in Ethiopia now.
“I tried to qualify for my fifth Olympics. And I don’t regret trying to do so. “I simply came up against stronger rivals on Sunday.”
Tariku Bekele and Leleisa Desisa Benti finished first and second respectively – with the former posting the best time in the world this year of 27min 11.70sec – to book their tickets for London.
The third spot is being kept for Bekele’s older brother and world record holder Kenenisa, who has been struggling for several months with a calf muscle problem.
Gebrselassie said that he felt he was handing over the baton of Ethiopian track running to a golden generation.
“I am leaving the track in a calm frame of mind because there is a super generation taking over,” he said.
“I haven’t in any case run on the track since the Beijing Games (2008).
“Ethiopia will be stronger in London.
“I gave all that I had. It is why I am not sad or disappointed. I am always happy to run. These next months, I will devote solely to marathons and half marathons.
“In three years, I envisage a political career. I would like to become a member of parliament.”
Gebrselassie, a four-time world 10,000m champion, had come into the race boosted by his victory in the 10km Great Manchester Run in northwest England last week in 27min 39secs.