By Senait Feseha
The 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup will come to an end tomorrow. Football fans are eagerly awaiting the momentous final game which will be played between France and Croatia – the latter being first time finalists. Dubbed as “the most beautiful game”, football is what unites many across the world. And the major tournament of this sporting event is the World Cup. From Diego Maradona’s hand of god in 1986 to Zinedine Zidane’s infamous head-butt in 2006, the FIFA World Cup comes and goes every four years leaving exciting memories in the minds of over one billion viewers all over the world, including Ethiopia. And this time around Addis Ababans have been wrapped up in the festivities for the past month, writes Senait Feseha.
With the rainy season approaching in full swing and temperature dropping below 10 ˚C at night, there is a strange phenomenon taking place in the city of Addis Ababa. Intense looking people assemble in several places all over the capital; security is tight. Men sat side by side with racing hearts and noticeable tension. When the unmistakable sound of a whistle is blown from a distance, an eruptive roar filled the area at once. The smell of rage and alcohol came about in the air. Everyone rose from their seats and came to their feet – adrenaline rush, excitement and football fans. It is without doubt the biggest tournament in the world of sports – the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup.
Over the course of the past month, many establishments have opened their doors to multitudes of passionate football fans set to gather around huge screens and spend hours cheering for their favorite teams.
Attending the World Cup, which is being held on Russian soil, would have been the ultimate experience for the fans; however, for those who are not fortunate enough, watching the games on gigantic screens proved to be the next best way to take in all the World Cup action in a colorful and lively setting.
“It is the people that make the experience, not the game,” Mesfin Teklehaimanot, owner of a small bar in Addis, said. “Watching the games in a bar or surrounded with such crowd is unique and no one can replicate that at home.”
Live screenings and local bars go hand in hand all over the world, and Addis is no exception. Attracting thousands of fans, the World Cup screened in many bars throughout the city and public spaces such as the Millennium Hall, Bole Fana, and the Exhibition Center; showing all 64 games.
These establishments broadcasted the games live at venues along with music, huge selection of refreshments, and other entertainment activities. Some of them even hired DJs and organized celebrity appearances, memorabilia outlets or other activities with gifts and giveaways, mostly sponsored by beer companies and soft drink bottlers. But, according to many, the main reason to watch the World Cup at these venues was to immerse in the pulsating atmosphere while rubbing shoulders with hardcore football fans in the city.
At the Millennium Hall, after passing the strict security checkpoints, visitors were greeted with what seemed like a festival. There was a live program lead by DJs and MCs. Multiple beer companies set make shift outdoor bars, marking their territories with uniformed waiters and aggressively competing for customers.
The hall was often packed with large number of people, including children. It had four large screens on every corners and the loud sound system could be heard blaring from afar. Some sat solo, clenching the blankets they brought for the chilly night, others sat in large groups drinking draft beer and concentrating on the game.
Even though Ethiopia has never been part of the World Cup, a sense of belongingness, solidarity and camaraderie filled the air whenever African teams play. A lot of Ethiopians shared ‘the Pan- African spirit’, supporting Sadio Mane’s Senegal or Mohamed Salah’s Egypt.
Although African teams failed to qualify to the knockout stages, fans in Addis were not deterred by the absence of the like of Nigeria and Morocco. During the games, people got emotional, often cheering, slurring or shouting at the players. And if a player scores a goal, the crowd creates an unreserved uproar.
Watching the celebrations when Philippe Coutinho scored at the Brazil vs. Switzerland match was nothing short of jubilant, and when Toni Kroos scored a memorable goal from a free kick at the edge of the penalty box in stoppage time during the Germany vs. Sweden match, the scenes were just as fanatical, if not more.
“This is the closest you can get to a live match day experience,” Abenezer Teshome, a 25-year-old attendee, said.
Usually, when the game is at its 45th minute break, football related activities and programs take place. Cheerleaders holding pom-poms and sporting red skirts circulated the grounds. Youngsters took pictures in “your face here” ply board cut-outs of famous players. Attendees or soccer team representatives such as the Ethiopian Coffee Sports Club and the Saint George Sports Club partook in a friendly game of petty goal where each player tried to score in a mini soccer goal post from a distance and other friendly games engaged the attendees.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup has been a bit unpredictable; it came as shock for everyone. For one reason or another, favorite teams such as the Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain did not quite make it to the final. The underdogs stunned their rivals and the ‘elites’ suffered an early departure. And, this was hugely reflected on these events. When a favorite team lost a match, the energy drop can be felt; the musical performance and the ambiance got a little awkward. It was even worse at the screening halls, because at the bars, people had their friends and the crowd to sustain the energy.
Although football experts have found it challenging to predict the winner of 2018’s World Cup, plenty of animal fortune-tellers have emerged all over the world trying to live up to the most famous animal psychic ‘Paul the Octopus’ – a legendary octopus who predicted soccer matches on the 2010 World Cup that was held in South Africa.
Kukusha, an oracle rooster, have been the latest animal to be entitled with fortune-telling powers in Ethiopia. Kukusha reportedly made a name for itself (and its sponsors) as a football psychic after starring in a beer commercial. When presented with two small piles of wheat representing two countries, Kukusha is said to have correctly predicted most of the games by choosing to eat from one pile eventually determining the winner.
With all the uncertainties and oddness and with favorites France and underdogs Croatia reaching the final (a rematch of the 1998 World Cup Semi Final), it would not be overstatement to say that this year’s World Cup is deemed to be one of the most exciting in history.