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Somalia Loses World Cup Qualifier, Wins Admiration


Somalia's national football team, the Ocean Stars, before a World Cup qualifying football match against Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, Nov 16, 2011

Somalia's national football team, the Ocean Stars, before a World Cup qualifying football match against Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, Nov 16, 2011

Ethiopia's football team has reached the group stage of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers with a comfortable victory over neighboring Somalia. But, for the thousands of Somalis packed into a corner of Addis Ababa stadium, a 5-0 drubbing felt like a victory.

As Somalia's fans trooped out of the stands following Wednesday's game, you might have thought they had won. Twenty-five-year-old Mohamed Hussein, a Somali refugee from Mogadishu, was ecstatic.

“I'm so happy, I want to thank the players, and I want to thank the people of Somalia today who stay in Addis Ababa who support our team," said Hussein.

A valiant Somali side held Ethiopia to a scoreless draw in the first leg of this home and away match, held Saturday in Djibouti.

In this return leg in Addis Ababa, the Ocean Stars trailed by only 1-0 at the one hour mark, before the superior Ethiopian side unleashed a torrent of goals.

The team for war-torn Somalia faces huge disadvantages in international competition, among them the lack of a home field. Mogadishu Stadium has not been used for sporting events in recent years. Instead, it was used by Islamist militant group al-Shabab for floggings and executions.

Somali refugee Hamdi Wardhere called the final score “great” considering the difficulties his country faces.

"I'm very delighted how I see my team and how they played, so I'm very happy really," said Wardhere. "Because I know my team haven't got a lot of training, and Ethiopia have trained in Germany. They have had time to train. We don't have enough government that can control this, and give the funds, so I'm very happy."

Ethiopian officials estimate as many as 200,000 Somali refugees live in Addis Ababa, half a million nationwide, including those in refugee camps along the Ethiopia/Somalia border.

The thousands who packed a corner of Addis Ababa stadium waved Somalia's light blue flag, though many waved the Somali and Ethiopian banners side by side to show appreciation to their host country.

Emil Barre, a Somali now living in London, called this a rare opportunity to feel pride in Somalia's achievements.

"I was really proud to support my country," said Barre. "Actually we lost, but that doesn't change how we love our team and our country, so it doesn't make a difference."

Ethiopia will next play South Africa in a group stage match in Johannesburg next June. After today's defeat, Somalia will go home to regroup as it tries to rebuild a football program, and a country wracked by two decades of war, famine and anarchy.

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