Unlucky Lone Star Fall to Meek Elephants
By Wleh Bedell
It could be described as a battle of two halves with the 86th best team in the world, the Lone Star of Liberia, putting up a spirited second half performance after Africa's reigning champions, the Elephants of the Ivory Coast dictated the rhythm in getting a vital away goal to win against their neighbors, Liberia, for the 11th time in 14 meetings as the Lone Star are yet to win against the Elephants. A 43rd minute goal from the 25 year old KV Oostende of Belgium striker Gohi Bi Zoro Cyriac courtesy of a gift as a result of a suicidal back pass from orthodox center back Kohn Dirkir Glay showed the difference between both sides at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS).
In his traditional 4-4-2 formation, Coach James Debbah made one change from the squad that got the stunning win away in Guinea-Bissau to break the 14 years away jinx with LISCR young goaltender Tommy Songo between the sticks and Solomon Grimes of Cyproit club Nea Salamis, Indonesian based Adolphus Marshall, Gor Mahia of Kenya Kohn Dirkir Glay and Jordanian side Al-Ali, Teah Dennis, Jr completing the back four.
The quartet in midfield included Malaysian club Sawarak Patrick Gerhardt in the holding role, Fidel of Malaysia Zah Krangar in the hole behind the front two with Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa Anthony Laffor and Swedish club Djurgaden Sam Johnson.
William Jebor of Spain's Ponferradina and Patrick Ronaldinho Wleh of PKNS of Malaysia made the front two.
French man Michel Dussuyer who implored a cautious but flexible 4-2-3-1 formation which at times altered to 4-3-3, had in goal Congo DR side TP Mazembe shotstopper SylvainGbohouo. The back four included French champions Paris Saint Germain Serge Aurier, Malaga of Spain Artur Boka, French club Lorient's Lamine Kone and Rizespor of Turkey Ousman Viera.
German club VFB Stuttgart GeoffreySerey Die and French club Toulouse Jean Daniel Akpa Akpro were pulling the strings as double pivot.
Gervais Yao Kouassi, alias Gervinho of Italian side AS Roma, Jean Michael Seri of French club OGC Nice and Gohi Bi Zoro Cyriac as the advanced three with CSKA Moscow of Russia Seydou Doumbia as the attack spearhead.
The visitors started on the front foot as the likes of Aurier, Boka, Seri and Gervinho making clever runs as they attempted to pick the pockets of the opposition. But, it was Jebor who was unable to bury a ball from close range as his left footed effort sailed wide away from goal. The first real action for the Elephants came after two minutes when Doumbia drifted wide and gave a delicious cross for the lurking Gervinho, but was impeded a bit by Dennis, Jr., as the ball sailed across the face of goal.
Lone Star predictable long ball game was easily read by the Elephants and one that managed to get to the path of Jebor went a bit far from him as the spectators shouted for penalty when the player was pushed from behind after he struggled to control. The Lone Star created some moments, but Wleh was a flop as his movement was uninspiring. The Ivorians nearly got the opener after Doumbia latched onto a through ball. He attempted to dribble goalkeeper Songo, but the shot stopper left leg saved the situation. From then on, Ivory Coast dictated the game, pulling short crisp passes together as Serey Die orchestrated things. By then, the Lone Star was conceding possession quite often as an exposed Gerhardt could neither win the tackles nor make a fitting pass to a play mate in advanced area. The fullbacks of Grimes and Marshall rarely ventured forward and the Lone Star still took the direct route with their long balls, some of which caused panic to their opponents defense as several corners came for the hosts, but were thwarted by the stoutly build defenders of the Elephants.
After 19 minutes, a sterile and seemingly unfit Wleh was substituted due to injury with Dioh brought on as he tried to inject some pace in his side attack. The Elephants had several chances being created, but a concentrated and brave Teah Dennis made several key interventions to keep the scoreline blank. But, with the African champions controlling the game through neat passes, movement and good work ethic, it became increasingly clear that they looked ominous like a side that deserved a goal. True to this, their organized play yielded dividends as a high pressure from them saw a rather weak clearance cum suicidal direct pass landing in the path of Gohi who took advantage of the gift from the former watanga man Glay as the striker buried it for the vital away goal to send the few spectators from the Ivory Coast in ecstasy. The team in dominant white, the Elephants, had their noses in front as the dominant red hosts looked dejected just before the half time whistle.
Whatever the likes of Africa's greatest player, George Weah and James Debbah told the Lone Star player gave them huge belief as they got on the front foot. Al Seny Keita had come on for a dreadful Gerhardt and the man from France stabilized the middle of the park and with the visitors getting the vital away goal, they took their feet off the peddle a bit as they slowed down with the Lone Star taking advantage. Several half chances were created and with Solomon Grimes keeping Gervinho at bay and Laffor dribbling Aurier at will, the team could just not score. Another descent cross from Laffor was met with a glancing header from Jebor as it sailed over. Tonia Tisdell who has played only seven minutes this season came on for Johnson as he tried to ignite the game. His best moment was when he found space away from Boka to fire an effort away from the side netting.
Laffor looked like having the key to unlock the door of the Elephants as he was a terror as he made several crosses. But, the center backs of Viera and Kone did nothing wrong and despite some poor coming out from goalkeeper Gohou, they held on. Meanwhile, Gervinho who along with Boka was on a yellow missed from close range at the other end. But, it was Laffor who caused more trouble with his crosses, but at times he should have taken more initiative to go in the box and strike for goal instead of just making the crosses that were mostly dealt with by the aggressive defense of the Ivory Coast. With the visitors since exhausting their three substitution as well, they resulted to time wasting as Gohouo also saw yellow.
Dioh, then Zah made several moves, but the leaders held on as they survived the four minute added time by the Tunisian referee. With the match ending, the Lone Star players got thunderous applauds from the relatively happy crowd and with nine corners to Liberia and three to the Ivory Coast with several chances created mainly in the first half, the red, white and blue outfit though did not directly trouble the opponents goalkeeper, however showed promise.
But, with the one goal for the Ivory Coast getting a first leg advantage away, the Lone Star will have a tall order in the second leg in Abidjan next Tuesday. The win means the Elephants have never lost to Liberia with 11 wins and three draws and with the Lone Star failing to score against the Ivory Coast on home soil, it means George Weah is the last player to score against them here in Liberia when the Lone Star loss 2-1 on December 23, 1987 at the SKD. It also means the Coach of the Ivory Coast, Michel Dussuyer, has kept his record of never losing to Liberia. With Guinea, he hammered Lone Star 3-0 in Conakry on September 8, 2002 and in Ghana 2-1 on June 21, 2003.
This was the Lone Star first home loss in more than two years since they loss to Senegal at the SKD on June 16, 2013 and the third time Weah has being in the stand to see Lone Star loss at home. The first was against Congo Brazzaville 2-0 on June 19, 2005, the loss to Senegal mentioned above and the latest one to the Ivory Coast. This was also Debbah's first home defeat, and the first game his side has failed to score.
With the death of the Liberia Football Association Chief Scribe Alphonso Armah and the rejecting of LFA president Musa Bility from the FIFA presidential race as a result of failing the integrity check, the Lone Star performance was good, but result bad still without a genuine playmaker.