Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Football-crazy Ethiopians descend on Mbombela

(Jan 22, 2013, Business Day)--Monday was an auspicious day for Ethiopians. Ethiopia, the oldest Christian country in Africa, not only celebrated Timkat, an annual event on the Ethiopian calendar that marks the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, but it soccer team finally has made it to the African Nations Cup finals.

The team challenged Zambia in a Group C match in Mbombela in Mpumalanga on Monday, breaking 31 years of failing to qualify for the finals of the tournament. Ethiopia is well known for track stars such as double Olympic gold medallist and world record holder Haile Gebrselassie, but they have won the Nations Cup just once, in 1962. Since then Ethiopia have qualified only once for the finals, in 1982.

The country’s hopes were so high on Monday that even the embassy in Pretoria shut for the day so staff could go to Mbombela and support their team. "I am a proud Ethiopian and have come all the way to support my team," said the embassy’s spokesman in Pretoria, Elias Fetene. "For me, soccer comes first as I have always watched and played soccer. Soccer is the bread and butter of my livelihood. I am here to see my team win again."

About 3,000 Ethiopians bought tickets for the game and flew into Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport from as far as their capital, Addis Ababa. From 10am yesterday cars carrying the Ethiopian flag and fans clad in Ethiopian soccer jerseys and waving flags were seen throughout Mbombela.

Even traditional South African vuvuzelas were painted in the colours of the Ethiopian flag — green, yellow and red. "Green for our land, yellow for the sky and red for danger. The Ethopian soccer team is here!" said fan Sicelo Sthai Vilakati.

"We will make history today in this land. Ethiopia will shine!" said Menlilk Mengistu while waving his Ethiopian flag with pride. Another supporter, Virna Varda, said the team would shine on the field. "Remember to keep faith and believe. We are 100% ready to shine."

South Africans were also excited about the Ethiopian invasion, with some throwing their support behind the team. Teresa Ferrari said even though she was proudly South African, she was rooting for Ethiopia. "I got an Ethiopian soccer jersey and am ready to support their great team. Ethiopia will make history today." Mbombela local municipality spokesman Joseph Ngala wished all the teams and their fans a safe and enjoyable tournament.

Mbombela Stadium also hosted a Group C game between Nigeria and Burkina Faso later last night. Other Group C games that will be played there include Zambia vs Nigeria and Burkina Faso vs Ethiopia on January 25, followed by Burkina Faso vs Zambia on January 29.
Source: Business Day

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