Sunday, October 13, 2013

Ethiopia can only hope

I went to an Ethiopian restaurant near my place in Monrovia to watch the World Cup play-off between Ethiopia and Nigeria in Addis Abbaba. The atmosphere was good as I noticed a cautious optimism among the Ethiopians in the restaurant. And this optimism only increased in the first half as Ethiopia played excellent and entertaining football to pressure the African champions. They even had a goal disallowed which in my view had crossed the line (there is no goal-line technology in Africa, and it will remain controversial, but I think Saladin Said's shot was across the line), and were largely the better team in the first half.
In the second half Ethiopia went ahead 1-0 on one of the strangest goals I have seen: Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyaema misjudged a pretty bad cross, and when catching the ball he seemed to cross the goal-line. It is as unclear as the first half goal, but this time the goal was awarded.
This made Nigeria wake up, and Emmanuel Emenike equalized with a great strike, where, if anything, the Ethiopian defense gave him too much space. And that is what may make Nigeria a great side: they score on their chances in spite of not playing better.
Ethiopia clearly stopped believing after this. In the restaurant where I watched the match it was clear that the cautious optimism turned to disappointment, and that also seemed to be what happened in Addis Abbaba. In fact, they never really believed they could do it, and the rest of the match they showed no danger to the Nigerian goal. On the other hand, in the last minute Nigeria was awarded a penalty which Emmanuel Emenike scored on, and gave Nigeria a victory. The next match will be in one month in Nigeria. I cannot believe that Ethiopia has much of a chance there, where Nigeria is is almost certain to win a spot in their fifth World Cup.
It is great that the African Champions are going to Brazil, but it is impossible not to feel a little sad for the Ethiopian side. With a largely home-based squad they play very entertaining football, valuing speed and technical quality much more than the overly tactical sides of today (Like Nigeria!). It is surely a bit naive, but it would be fantastic to have a team like that in Brazil next year, if anything, to add a little spice to the tournament.

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