Scrappy Lone Star Surrender to Resurgent Togo
By Wleh Bedell
It was another disjointed and disappointing performance from the Lone Star of Liberia as they succumbed to pressure against a well drilled cum quick possession Togo's Sparrow Hawks who showed character, desire, commitment and tenacity in coming from two goals down to walk away with a vital away point in a nerve wrecking 2-2 draw in the penultimate round of the Gabon 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS).
The sticks were high, there was an aura of optimism, the Lone Star were in a must win match to brighten their chances to qualify for their third Africa Nations Cup finals, their first in 15 years.
Less than an hour to the game however, police began to cause havoc when they threw tear gas canisters at spectators outside the stadium, just about the time the Lone Star had arrived. This affected full back Solomon Grimes who had to get quick treatment. More than 200 spectators were hurriedly taken out of the pitch mostly in stretchers, something that was life threatening.
For the match itself, the Lone Star announced their intention as early as the 8th minute when the Israeli Second tier club Hapoel Afula center back cum holding midfielder Gizzie Ducan Dorbor who operates as left back for country latched on to a wayward cross to strike a ferocious long range effort few meters from the corner post as the ball eluded the 37 year old Togolese showstopper Agassa Kossi of French club Reims. The goal send the vociferous crowd at the jammed ATS in frenzy. This goal saw Dorbor making history as he became the first Liberian defender to score for the Lone Star after 26 years. It can be recalled, the last time a defender scored for the Lone Star was on October 21, 1989 when another full back, Alexander Theo, scored a blistering long range effort in the senior national team of Liberia 2-0 second leg win over Guinea's Sylli Nationale in the CEDEAO Cup at the SKD.
The goal by dorbor ignited the game as Togo began to make inroads, but tenacious defending from mainly Dirkir Glay and Theo Dennis made life difficult for the former African footballer of the year, Emmanuel Sheyi Adebayor. The Togolese played with lot of width. The pacey Standard Leige of Belgium winger Matthieu Dossevi and French club Bastia midfielder Floyd Ayite were ominous as they caused trouble for the hosts.
In the 15th minute, Togo were awarded a free kick from a promising position and Ayite's effort hit Tommy songo's wood work, but the goal that was scored as a result of a follow up from Saudi Arabian based defender Ouro Akoriko was cancelled by the Egyptian referee. As the game progressed, the Lone Star attacked in droves with Anthony Laffor, Francis Doe and Dioh Williams looking menacing. The corner kicks came in as Dirkir Glay came close to scoring from a header. But, it became visible that as the Togolese began to dominate possession with Spanish club Alcocorn fullback and the rest of his teammates pushing into attack on all cylinders, the Lone Star lacked a genuine play maker as William Jebor and Francis Doe struggled for service.
To make matter worse, Dorbor was injured with overnight Coach James Debbah's favorite son, Alvin Mccornell, bench warmer of top club Barrack young controllers being introduced as both sides went to the locker rooms.
Back from recess, Debbah's opposite number, the experienced and highly accomplished Claude LeRoy went for the jaguar as he pulled men forward, played an expansive and risky game, but Solomon Grimes and co stood tall in defense. Mccornell was exposed as Togo decided to play a left sided game. The crosses floated in and a short of confidence, lethargic, meek and peripheral Mccornell looked like someone looking for water in the desert. But it was the Lone Star that got the cushion against the run of play when a lethal Francis Doe showed composure and calmness to play a quick ball to partner in crime William Jebor who scored a "Puska like goal" with a spectacular overhead kick in the 54th minute to rotate the scoreline from 1-0 to 2-0.
At this point, many thought the game was over as the ecstatic crowd began to sing "we are on our way--to the promise land--". But Togo refused to lie down as they began to once more dictate the rhythm of the game, spraying the passes interchangeably as it looked like they would score.
Mccornell was still exposed prompting Laffor to drop deep to help the match rusty defender who is a natural center back. Adebayor who was often bundled by the hosts back line, dropped deep in using himself as a decoy and play maker as the Italian club Atalanta loanee from Genoa, another Italian club, took the mantle of attack. Ayite would then head in a cross from Mcornell's position in the 69th minute as the match rusty Tommy Songo failed to deal with it and it was game on for the side dressed in dominant yellow.
The dominant red outfit Lone Star team were tired and out maneuvered. Thoe Weeks Lewis and Sam Johnson were then in slumber with Al-Seny Keita brought on for tired legs Dioh Williams, and after persistent and incessant attacks, Kodjo Laba in the 83rd minute brought Togo back on level pegging by finishing a corner when he made the run to elude the Lone Star back line, and once more the erratic Songo was caught wanting as a visibly dejected and dumbfounded Debbah held check in hand with his petulant deputy Kelvin Sebwe standing in the dugout gesticulating in the name of giving out instructions.
A bemused Tonia Tisdell was introduced for a tired but effective Francis Doe, but it was later too late as the referee blew the final whistle to end the match. This was an opportunity lost and was the first time ever the Lone Star had surrendered a two goal lead at home in a qualifier. It also showed proved that the Lone Star had never won all of its home games in any qualifier. This means the Lone Star fairy tale run is over from an analytical perspective as they will fall to the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in September on the final week of the qualifiers to see Tunisia top the group with 13 points and Togo will destroy traditional whipping boys Djibouti in Lome to move to second spot with 11 points in being a contender for one of the two runners up slot in 11 of the zones.
It is worth noting that as Adebayor exchanged shirt with a Lone Star player and began walking the length of the pitch to applaud the crowd, Debbah was there crying as all hope was lost. Another disappointment. Match rusty goalkeeper, poor fullback, uncoordinated and disjointed midfield with tired legs upfront and a tactically maladriot Coach in James Debbah cost the Lone Star as a well drilled Togolese outfit wrapped a point at the ATS. However, they should have arguably won as they looked like the side that wanted it most.
Player Ratings to follow.