Having already steered Ethiopia to back-to-back regional titles in the annual East and Central African Senior Challenge Cup, Sewnet Bishaw's attentions are now turning further afield as his side prepares his side for the start of the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Ethiopia play their first continental qualifier in almost three years when they host Libya in a wet Addis Ababa on Sunday, their facilities hampered by the country's rainy season and their attempts to switch the game thwarted by the continental authorities.
Also in their group are Congo DR, quarter-finalists at this year's Cup of Nations finals in Egypt, and Namibia, but Ethiopia - former winners themselves - are now hoping to return to past glories, as Bishaw told FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: What are your chances against Libya and how have your preparations gone?
Sewnet Bishaw: Our ambition is obviously to beat them, because if we don't win our chances of qualifying will immediately be poor. We have not participated in the finals for such a long time - it's almost 26 years since we were last there. Our objective therefore is to beat Libya and the other countries in our group, especially at home, and qualify. We have been training our players in camp from the last two moths on the muddy and rainy grounds and I hope that will lead to a good performance. It's a must for us to win.
How realistic are your chances?
As a coach, you have to say 'yes (they are realistic)'. The principle of the games is to win. We will have to work hard in order to qualify. We have a big advantage in that our environment is difficult for teams like Libya, whose countries are closer to sea level. It's very hard for them to play in Addis, where the altitude is 2400 metres above sea level. That's a big advantage for us. They are also used to very nice pitches, but because of the rains here, our ground is very muddy. We have watched (Libya's) recent friendly matches. They are a mobile team with a short passing game and our ground simply does not allow them to do that. I have never seen them playing long balls. We see that as a big factor in our favour.
Looking at your qualifying group, which of your opponents do you consider to be the strongest?
I see the Congo and Namibia as difficult sides. Namibia only lost 1-0 to the national side of South Africa the other day. They are not a simple team, they have a great youth set up. Congo have a lot of well known professionals, like (Lomana) LuaLua, and a lot of experience - much more than us. That may play a little psychologically on my players, but I don't mind. We have to try. I assume Congo will be the best in the group.
How much has your success in the last two years of the East and Central African Senior Challenge Cup given you a sense of confidence?
For our boys, it was a great boast. They have won the tournament twice in a row and most of the players remain in our squad. They have experience, understanding and a good team spirit. They know that if they qualify there are also incentives from the government and money from the people also. They've been working hard.
Ethiopia is a founder member of the Confederation of African Football and a former Cup of Nations winner. Is it a burden to have this glorious past hanging over your head when the team has not enjoyed major success for decades?
It's unfortunate. Football success does not come in isolation. The country needs a strong economy, good attitude from the federation, but our officials were fighting every year in the past. Now the federation seems stable. But this has affected our football, even down to the club level. Players were selected for the national team who did not deserve to be there. We did not pick the best players. Frankly, there was corruption. This affected our football for the last years but now there is an understanding that football has become business and everybody can benefit if the team does well. I hope that we stay on this positive route in the future.
Is it a disadvantage that Ethiopia does not have many professional players competing outside of the country in stronger leagues?
We don't have enough professionals, that's true. We have players from Yemen, which is not a strong league, and they were the best we had here. We have some young players from Germany but they don't have experience and I am not going to risk them in the game against Libya. It could be too hard for them at this level of competition. But I'm confident in the future we will have a better team.
Would you like to see more Ethiopians playing in top leagues worldwide? Will that benefit your national team?
Yes, yes. If possible, yes.
Even if you don't qualify for the next Cup of Nations finals in Ghana, is there further ambition down the line, maybe looking towards the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™?
Of course. Football is a long-term process, You have to work, work, work. If you are successful now, you still have to keep working. And if you don't have immediate success you have to keep working even harder. We are trying for 2010, for sure!