Even the docking of three points by FIFA for fielding a suspended player in an earlier match could not halt the Walya Antelopes’ impressive march into the World Cup playoffs. Ironically, Ethiopia's winner in Brazzaville came from Minyahile Beyene, the player whose presence in an earlier qualifier while suspended led to Ethiopia forfeiting three crucial points and having its progression put on hold.
World footballing body, FIFA, has taken notice of Ethiopia’s achievement stating that Africa's second-most populous nation and one of its most ancient and inspirational cultures, has long lagged behind the continent's big boys as social, economic conditions have all combined to keep the nation of almost 85-million people struggling, and the plight of the Walya Antelopes has followed suit.
But Ethiopia’s miraculous economic turn around in recent years has progressively changed her national team’s fortunes. By 2011, Ethiopia’s 11.4% annual growth put the country on the map as one of the world’s fastest growing economies. A New African business report in the same year placed Ethiopia as the third fastest growing economy in the world, behind only China and India meaning that the new regional powerhouse, now Africa’s fastest growing economy, is quickly reclaiming its African Lion Status.
According to business analysts, opportunities in the East African nation are diverse and range from commercial farming to real estate development, industrial development and construction while a thriving service sector is bolstered by Ethiopia’s tourism and hospitality sectors. China’s heavy investment in the construction, mining and industrial sectors have contributed to a robust economic boom attracting other investors from Saudi Arabia, India, and Turkey. To further stimulate the economy, the Ethiopian government provides loans, land and technology as incentives for domestic entrepreneurs, generating employment and transforming small and medium - sized businesses into larger enterprises.
It is no surprise that Ethiopia’s grand renaissance is reflected in its national football team’s astonishing progress in world football. The Walya Antelopes finished top in their group, ahead of seasoned South Africa. This remarkable feat represents the closest an East African team has come to securing a World Cup spot. Ethiopia is now only a two match playoffs away from the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. With seven West African and two North African teams securing playoff slots, Ethiopia is the only nation from the entire East, Central and Southern Africa regions to reach the playoffs. It now represents the hope of the entire East African region in its illustrious bid to achieve its World Cup dream.
Ethiopia’s victory and that of two other newcomers on the big stage represents a power shift in the highly competitive African football scene. This year saw a massive surge in the East African nation’s fortunes, reaching the January 2013 African Cup of Nations in South Africa and registering impressive wins in their World Cup qualifiers to eventually land in the playoffs.
Football pundits say it could be a toll order in the playoffs for the likes of Ethiopia with top-ranked, seeded African teams such as Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria tipped by bookmakers to clinch World Cup spots. But anything can happen in international football as second-tier teams are determined to stage major upsets. In 2006, unfancied Togo and Angola made it to the World Cup while traditional giants like Egypt, Cameroon and Nigeria fell on the wayside.
Western African Minnows, Cape Verde, have upset all the form books reaching the 2013 African Cup quarter finals and upstaging traditional giants, Tunisia on Sunday, beating the North Africans 2-0 in their home turf of Rades. Burkina Faso, formerly regarded as West African lightweights, have taken huge strides in African football losing narrowly to perennial giants, Nigeria, in a closely contested 2013 African Cup of Nations final in South Africa. The Burkinabe have now pushed the bar higher securing a playoffs ticket and inching closer to the World Cup.
After a grueling round of qualifying matches in the CAF zone featuring forty nations drawn into ten groups of four, group winners will now square it off in a home and away playoffs for the bragging rights to parade as five of the African teams that will feature in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil next year. Playoff qualifiers include the usual suspects like Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Algeria while Egypt and Senegal, giants that have inexplicably struggled in World Cup qualifiers are among the teams that will line-up in the eagerly anticipated playoffs. The new kids on the bloc; Ethiopia, Cape Verde and Burkina Faso, take up the remaining playoffs berths.
The playoffs draw will be held at the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, by FIFA on Monday the 16th of September at noon (Egyptian time).
A FIFA team including FIFA director of Competitions, Mustapha Fahmy and Gordon Savic, Head of FIFA World Cup & Olympic Qualifiers Competitions, will be in Egypt for the draw. According to CAF, FIFA rankings will be used to determine the seeding with the five highest ranked teams in one pot and the other five teams placed in another pot. CAF has also released the playoff fixtures, with the first leg encounters in the home and away matches to be played 11-15 October 2013 while the second leg deciders will take place 15-19 November 2013.