Jacob Harris (Intern)
The senior national team of Liberia will embark on another tough journey in their quest to return to the AFCON after 20 years.
The Lone Star were recently pitted in Group K of the 2023 AFCON qualifiers alongside Morocco, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The two teams from the group will secure a place at the finals.
A total of 24 teams will qualify to compete for the African championship in Cote d’Ivoire that are hosting the tournament for the second time since 1984.
Coach Peter Butler and his boys will kick-start their journey against Zimbabwe in Harare early June, according to the fixtures.
However, it is likely that the group will be reduced to three members as Zimbabwe risks being disqualified.
FIFA banned Zimbabwe on February 24, 2022 due to the interference of the national government.
If the ban is not lifted by FIFA two weeks before the opening fixtures of the qualifiers, Zimbabwe will be dropped from the qualifications.
Zimbabwe have the edge in the head-to-head records with Liberia. Out of the four last meetings, all AFCON qualifiers, Zimbabwe won two, drew one and lost one.
After Zimbabwe, the Lone Star will face Morocco in their first home match later in June.
Morocco are believed to be the best team in the group. They participated in the last edition of the tournament hosted in Cameroon, and have continued to prepare for the upcoming qualifiers through international friendlies.
The North African boys are known for their quality of playing and the class of players they have. The Morrocans can boast of their star players Zyeck and Hakimi, of Chelsea and PSG respectively. The two sides have met three times with Liberia having won only once in a friendly match. The two teams met two times in the African Cup qualifiers where Morocco won the both legs on March 22, 1981 and April 4, 1981.
Liberia’s only win against the Morrocans came 6 years later when they met in an international friendly in 1987. The game ended 2-1 in favour of the Lone Star.
It is still not yet known where the Lone Star will host Morocco, as the SKD Stadium will not be ready to host the match in June.
The Lone Star’s next challenge will be an away clash against Bafana Bafana of South Africa. Bafana Bafana are also being considered as the second best team in the group. They hosted the AFCON in 1996, which saw Liberia qualify for the first time in the competition.
Since the hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2010, Bafana Bafana have been struggling to find their way back on path as they were in the 1990s. It has been difficult for them to wake up from their slumber. They last participated in AFCON during the 2019 edition that was held in Egypt, where they reached the quarterfinals.
Liberia and South Africa have both met twice in AFCON qualifiers in 2000 and 2001 with Liberia drawing (1-1) at home and losing 2-1 away.
The journey is obviously a difficult one, but the Lone Star are hopeful of booking a spot at the 2023 nations cup.
Head Coach Butler recently invited 30 local-based players to begin training ahead of the fixtures. The players will begin preparation on a training camp and will eventually be joined by overseas-based players for the first and second fixtures.
Amid the ongoing preparation, the Lone Star are faced with the challenge of playing their first home match away and could play the remaining ones away if the SKD is not qualified to host international matches.
The SKD was banned in 2019 for not meeting the minimum stadium requirements. The artificial turf project at the SKD Stadium, which started a few weeks ago, is still ongoing.
The situation of the Lone Star not playing their home matches at home has been pointed out as one of the reasons for the national team’s failure to qualify for international competitions.
The Lone Star won four and drew one of their last five home games at home in all competitions.
Supporters and players have over the last two years continued to express frustration over the Lone Star playing their home matches away. They believe it will serve as a huge source of motivation if the team plays on home soil.
Another issue is the sparse financial support from the government to the national team. This has also led to the poor performance of the team with coaches blaming the team’s failure to lack of needed support to prepare the team.
However, the LFA and the national government are now under pressure to ensure that the needed support is provided to enhance the team’s performance in the upcoming qualifiers.
Missing out on the 2023 AFCON in next door Cote d’Ivoire will be one of biggest failures that will haunt both LFA and the government.