It had been a long time coming. The Ethiopia national side’s last appearance in the African Cup of Nations finals was some three decades ago, so to be in the mix this year is a momentous feat after such an extended time out. And they have started with purpose.
Yet they lacked that cutting edge. Despite showcasing intermittent moments of brilliance, coach Sewnet Bishaw’s troops have been caught ‘overplaying’ and have, in their two opening encounters, lacked enough grit at times.
A notoriously modest footballing nation; their glory days of the 1970/80s seem all but a distant memory. Development has been stunted since, and although there have been glimpses of promise, the infrastructure and resources are just not apparent.
The team have played some aesthetically pleasing stuff so far yet operate bottom place in Group C with just the single point – which they collected in the opener against reigning champions Zambia.
Adane Girma, the national side’s leading talisman with over 30 caps for his country, scored in the 1-1 draw which gave their supporters some hope heading into the next game. If Ethiopia are going to turn things around, he is likely to be behind it.
22-year-old midfield enforcer Shimelis Bekele, solid defensive unit Aynalem Hailu and classy no.8 Asrat Megersa are others that have impressed so far. The team’s style and passing exploits is what constitutes the modern football team.
However, it’s been all too clear to see that the side’s tentative approach is costing them. Having watched their latest match, a 4-0 defeat to Burkina Faso, their performance was amendable. But the tendency to ‘overdo it’, so to speak, in key areas is taking its toll.
Bishaw may need to reconsider his tactics. A more pragmatic and rustic approach might just test their opponents more in terms of physicality and utilise the forwards more. At the moment, the nice football isn’t reaping the benefits.
It was too easy for Burkina Faso to exploit Ethiopia’s backline. Ball retention was scarce due to Burkina Faso’s intense pressing and when the likes of attacker Alain Traore – who netted a brace – got the ball they were prudent. It seems so cruel but it’s the reality: if Ethiopia continue to lack penetration and that extra bit of quality in the final third then an early home-coming beckons.
Next up is the final group game against Nigeria. It’s going to be another difficult test especially on the back of a 4-0 hammering. The players’ mental strength will come into question.
So the point is: for all Ethiopia’s possession, they aren’t being productive enough to win games. There is a good balance to the squad and it’s now up to Bishaw to try and tweak its dimensions in the hope of more luck not just in this tournament but in the future, too.
This article was written by Nathan Carr. You can follow him on twitter.