AFRICAN CUP QUALIFIER WIN: HOW LIBERIA CLIPPED TUNISIA'S EAGLES
Written by Danesius Marteh, firstname.lastname@example.org; A. Macaulay Sombai, email@example.com
Published: 05 September 2015
Monrovia – After a string of loses including a June meltdown in Lome, Togo and a bout with the deadly Ebola virus outbreak, very few gave Liberia’s Lone Star, ranked 160, a footballing chance, especially after No. 1 goalkeeper Nathaniel Sherman’s freak accident on the eve of a crucial Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against North African powerhouse, Tunisia, ranked 33rd in the World.
But playing at home against the “Eagles of Carthage”, a team left for dead and labeled rejected stones by many skeptics, muster the courage and somehow found a will to win in what was for many a must-win duel.
Francis Grandpa Doe scored 10 minutes from time to give Liberia a 1-0 win over the Tunisians at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in Monrovia on Saturday. Doe, who was deemed surplus to requirements for the 2-1 defeat to Togo in Lome on June 14, headed home an Anthony Snothi Laffor corner to give head coach James Salinsa Debbah his first win in three matches since taking over from interim coach Thomas Kojo last November.
It was his fourth international goal, having scored against Cameroon, Rwanda and Cape Verde in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. He top scored in Malaysian Premier League for NX Matrix where he bagged 17 league goals. Liberia could have won by a three or four-goal margin but Doe and striker partner William Jebor either had some moments of errors or were denied by goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi.
The enthusiasm among fans at home and abroad was massive and the heavy downpour of rain couldn’t prevent them from trouping to the stadium in their national colors. There was a delay of at least five minutes to kick-off as stadium workers tried to dry the flooded artificial turf. But the playing surface did interrupt the free flowing football as defender Teah Dennis, wearing the captain’s armband, and his teammates tried to secure the three points in order to give the group a decent look.
Despite the early exchanges, there was nothing much to remember as the Tunisians tried to absorb the pressure and take their hosts on the break. And the closest Liberia came to scoring was when Anthony Snothi Laffor miscued a Doe pass, which was received from Zah Kranger, over Mathlouthi’s cross bar. After Doe’s goal, the Tunisians opened-up and Yasine Chikouqua, who scored a hat-trick against Djibouti on June 13, almost fashioned an equalizer when he received a defense splitting pass but Dirkar Glay was alert to prevent the danger.
The win will ease the pressure on Debbah, who has come under some sustained media criticisms, to walk the game he has been preaching on Facebook. At a pre-match news conference on Friday at the Liberia Football Association headquarters, Debbah told Liberians to not expect much from his administration as he was appointed to build a national team.
Several Coaches Have Tried
But Liberia have been in search of a formidable team since most of the players in the George Weah-IX retired after the 2002 Nations Cup finals in Mali. Several coaches, including Kadala Kromah, Joseph Sayon, Antoine Hey of Germany, deceased Bertalan Bicskei of Hungary and Roberto Landi of Italy were all tasked with building a team. But Debbah, who was critical of past coaches, said it will take time to reinvent the winning days of the Weah-IX.
Saylee Swen marked his return to the international scene after more than four years in the wilderness following a nasty cut over the left eye of undisputed number one goalie Nathaniel Sherman when he crashed into a transparent glass at the team’s Executive Lodge Hotel on Wednesday. And Swen dedicated the victory to Sherman, who is said to be gradually recovering from his facial injury.
“First of all, I want to give the Almighty God thanks [for this victory]. It is by his power and grace that today I am victorious. Words are inadequate for me to express [how grateful I am] but I just want to give God the glory. “To you Nathaniel Sherman, wherever you are I say it is all over [for your injury and pain]. As Solo Densar is there for you, I will be there for you and we will work together,” a breathless Swen said.
Laffor quit international football when Lesotho beat Liberia 2-0 in a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Maseru in June 2014 to bow out 2-1 on aggregate. The Mamelodi Sundowns striker, who reconsidered his decision but was relieved of the captaincy, said the victory leaves the group wide open.
Laffor Pleads for Unity
“Our victory today came through the understanding of the players, our head coach and members of his technical staff and we hope to do more in our remaining games in the competition. I call on my fellow players for us to remain united as we struggle,” Laffor, who is based in South Africa, said.
Vice President Joseph Boakai was the guest of honor and led an array of dignitaries, including Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan, Defense Minister Brownie Sumakai, Sports Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe, LFA President Musa Bility, Montserrado County Representative Edwin Snowe (also a former LFA President) and the political leader of Liberty Party, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine.
Speaking to UNMIL Radio after the match, Nagbe said it is now time for government to invest more in football. “They received their per diems on time; they were on camp on time and it was a very efficient organization. Yes, there will always be need for more money. Perhaps, this win will help me to make the case for more funding for the national teams,” Nagbe said.
But Ngafuan was understandably delighted with Debbah, who performed a miracle amidst the lack of a winning mentality, which has been hanging over the team for many years. “Well, let me firstly lavish tons of praises on coach James Salinsa Debbah. You know, for a very long time, I have not seen the Lone Star played like this. It is not just beating the game, through luck, but we dominated the game from the beginning to the end.
“There was no time when the Lone Star was shaky. I want to thank all the boys for being united and playing with maturity. I think this is the kind of Lone Star we have been craving for and we all need to do all we can to support this team,” said Ngafuan, who provided one of the Chinese-donated buses, that took the team to the stadium. Liberians on social network sites, who couldn’t be at the ATS for one reason or another, were thrilled with the result.
“We waited so long for this national emotional relief, and finally the Lone Star brightens the nation's heart. What a deserving victory over Tunisia! Halla Liberia! The Lone Star Forever!” Patrick M’bayo, a former deputy minister for youth services at the Ministry of Youth and Sports, wrote on facebook. Former Monrovia Black Stars vice president Timothy Paulus also commented on the Sports Extra Facebook group.
Togo Remains Unbeaten in Group A
“My young friend, the national team is like your parents. Whether the team performs well or not, we are all under obligation to continue to support them. Whether your parents succeed in life or not, they do not cease to be your parents. They are your parents as long as they live and as long as you live so is our national team. So Go Lone Star Go. Victory [is sure] all the way!”
Elsewhere in the group, Togo won their second straight game by beating Djibouti 2-0 on Friday without star striker Emmanuel Adebayor. Unwanted by Tottenham Hotspurs, the 31-year-old failed to respond to a call-up following a row over the captaincy ahead of Togo’s 2-1 win over Liberia in Lome on June 14. New captain Serge Akakpo wasted little time in making an impact, scoring after three minutes, before Jonathan Ayite doubled the lead before half-time. Togo lead Group A with six points while Djibouti are bottom with no point.
Elsewhere in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, Comoros 0 vs Uganda 1; Seychelles 1 vs Ethiopia 1; Burundi 2 vs Niger 0; Namibia 0 vs Senegal 2; Rwanda 0 vs Ghana 1; South Sudan 1 vs Equatorial Guinea 0; Tanzania 0 vs Nigeria 0; Botswana 1 vs Burkina Faso 0; Sao Tome & Principe 0 vs Morocco 3; Gabon 4 vs Sudan 0; Guinea Bissau 2 vs Congo 4 and Mauritania 3 vs South Africa 1.
Liberia: 1-Saylee Swen, 8-Solomon Grimes, 4-Gizzie Dorbor, 3-Teah Dennis (captain), 5-Dirkir Glay, 18-Anthony Laffor, 11-Zah Krangar (14-Oscar Dorley-68’), 6-Patrick Gerhardt, 17-Sam Johnson, 15-Francis Grandpa Doe and 9-William Jerbo.
Unused substitutes: 10-Sekou Jabateh-Oliseh, 7-Sekou Conneh, 13-Henry Berron and 2-Adolphus Marshall.
Tunisia: 16-Aymen Mathlouthi, 9-Yassine Chikhaoui (captain), 6-Hocine Ragued, 4-Salim Djemia, 7-Youssef Msakni, 2-Alaya Brigui, Aymen Abdennour 11-Sebeur Khalire, 18-Hamdi Nagfguer, 6-Aoussia Raguod, 13-Hamza Lahmar and 8-Siyan Yousse
Substitutes: 1-Farouk Mustapha, 17-Hanza Mathlouthi, 5-Ammer Jamel, 14-Aymen Amoz and 8-Foki Yousef
Match officials: Maudo Jallow, Center Referee; Dickory Jawo, Assistant Referee #1; Karamo Forbes, Assistant Referee #2.