It is finally here. International football is back. The Walias are bidding to qualify for the first time for the African Cup of Nations finals since 2013. Ethiopia, a pioneer of African football had to wait thirty-three years to qualify last time out. Now Webetu Abate, only appointed in September 2020, has named his 23-man squad ahead of two crucial Group K AFCON qualifier matches. There is only one foreign-based player Shemeles Bekele who is called up to the national team.
Ethiopia will welcome Madagascar to Bahir Dar Stadium on March 24. On a potentially decisive final matchday, the Walias will travel to Abidjan to face Ivory Coast. All four teams from Group K can still qualify with 2015 champions Ivory Coast ahead of Madagascar only thanks to a better head-to-head record. Ethiopia is in third place a point behind with six points while Niger has three. In the reverse fixture, Ethiopia dominated Madagascar but lost 1-0. Madagascar captain Abel Anicet told BBC Sport Africa “It’s true that we won 1-0 but they dominated for most of the match. They have good players and most of them play in Ethiopia apart from two or three.
I think it is going to be a great match. We saw what they were capable of in Madagascar and so we are expecting it to be even more difficult.” High praises from the captain but the Ethiopian side view the upcoming match as a must-win.
The Walias stunned Ivory Coast 2-1 in Bahir Dar and moved to second in the group on the day. The squad will hopefully build confidence from that result, and as they go head-to-head with Ivory Coast on March 30. Even though the Walias are now in third place the mood in the camp is very optimistic, and they will be going for maximum points in the reaming games.
Webetu has been attending Ethiopian Premier League matches to make the decisive selection. He also set up training sessions and team meetings in between league breaks. At times he was seen with the former national team coach Abraham Mebratu during league games. Abraham departed after his contract expired in August 2020, and the EFF opted not to renew his contract which lasted two years.
On his resume, Webetu had a brief playing career at the end of the 1990s before an injury made him hang up his boots. He then turned to coaching and got a distinguished name in the process. His mesmerizing run with Adama Ketema in the 2007 season of the Ethiopian Premier League landed him a job at big spenders Dedebit but he left the club early. He is famous for guiding Ethiopia Bunna to their first-ever – and last, to date – Ethiopian Premier League title in 2011, beating cross-city rivals Kidus Giorgis. He also enjoyed a brief stint at Sudanese outfit Al Ahli Shendi. He also won the 2019 Ethiopian Cup with Fasil Kenema.
Webetu’s squad is comprised of veteran players like Getaneh Kebede, Shimeles, and Jemal Tassew who helped the team qualify for AFCON in 2013. The experience of these players will play a great role in the upcoming matches. The squad also has the hottest prospects in the Ethiopian Premier League in Abubaker Nassir, Mujib Kassim, Amanuel G/Michael, and Surafel Dagnachew. Abubaker and Mujib are the top goal scorers along with the veteran Getaneh Kebede, respectively. No player has more goal involvement than Abubaker Nassir in the Ethiopian Premier League this season.
Webtu is likely to use his preferred 4-3-3 formation. The defensive partnership of Aschalew Tamene and Yared Baye has been solid and may continue to partner together. The only foreign-based player Shimeles might keep his place as a floating No.10 role. The stacked forward line will likely be a headache for Webetu as all are in-form and have staggering stats this season. Amanuel Yohannes, captain of Ethiopian Coffee and midfield conductor, who was a man of the match against Niger in Addis Ababa, has been ruled out of the two qualifier games.
The Ethiopian National team is yet to lose at Bahir Dar International Stadium in international games but lost 1-0 to Uganda in a friendly encounter during the tenure of Abraham in 2019. The winning run continued as Ethiopia trashed Mawai in a friendly match to prepare for the qualifiers on Wednesday. Two first-half goals from Getaneh and Mesud gave the hosts the lead. The second half was the same as the first and the Walias added two more goals. Surafel and Abubaker set up each other and seal the win. After the match, the team Captain Getaneh stated that “The friendly match was essential for the team. Our team is very confident to get the maximum points from the two qualifiers. Playing at home will give us a sense of boost.”
Players to Watch
Getaneh Kebede – Captain, 11 Goals in 16 games
Shemeles Bekele – 6 goals and 3 assists in 14 games (2020/21)
Abubaker Nassir – 20 Goals in 16 games (2020/21)
Mujib Kassim – 15 goals in 16 games (2020/21)
Yared Baye – 9 Clean Sheet in 16 games (2020/21)
Amanuel G/Micheal – 2019/20 Ethiopian Premier League top scorer (18 goals in 30 games)
Teklemariam Shanko (Ethiopia Bunna), Mentesnot Alo, Firew Getachew (Sebeta Ketema), Jamal Tasaw (Wolkite Ketema)
Aschalew Tamene (Kidus Giorgis), Thomas Semertu (Wolkite Ketema), Yared Baye (Fasil Kenema), Menaf Awol (Bahir Dar Ketema) Remedan Yesuf (Wolkite Ketema) Suleman Hamid (Hadiya Hossana), Asrat Tunjo (Ethiopia Bunna), Wondmeneh Dereje (Ethiopia Bunna), Mesay Paulos (Sebeta Ketema)
Midfielders Gadisa Meberate (Kidus Giorgis), Habtamu Tekeste (Fasil Kenema), Mesoud Mohammed (Sebeta Ketema), Endeshaw Yihun (Fasil Kenema), Shemeles Bekele (Misr El Makassa/Egypt), Fitsum Alemu(Bahir Dar Ketema), Hadyer Sherfa (Kidus Giorgis), Shemket Gugesa (Fasil Kenema), Surafel Dagnachew (Fasil Kenema)
Getaneh Kebede (Kidus Giorgis), Amanuel G/Micheal (Kidus Giorgis), Abuneker Nasser (Ethiopia Bunna), Mujib Kassim (Fasil Kenema)