In a matter of hours, the whistle will set in motion the highly anticipated match between Liberia’s national football team, Lone Star, and the Elephants of La Cote d’Ivoire in the first leg of the 2018 World Cup group qualifier at the sold out Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS) in Monrovia.
But while the Liberia Football Association (LFA) was gearing up for the match, two tragedies struck: first, its president, Musa Hassan Bility, suffered rejection by FIFA’s Electoral Committee for the February 6, 2016 elections. The committee said Mr. Bility failed its integrity check, but gave no further explanation. The second tragedy was the death of Secretary General B. Alphonso Armah, who was buried yesterday.
Although the two calamities overwhelmed the LFA, as evidenced by the melancholy that settled over staff at its headquarters, Coach James Salinsa Debbah, Anthony Laffor, William Jebor, whose miraculous hat-trick against Guinea Bissau in the same competition has rejuvenated Liberian football, told journalists that they are ready to write their names in history.
In remarks during a program held at the headquarters of the primary sponsor of the national team, Cellcom GSM, on Capitol Bypass, Jebor said “We know Ivorians in African football and so we recognize that, but we also recognize our own worth in this game.” He credited God for the new focus that Liberian football is demonstrating and declared, “We will give Liberians victory!”
Coach Debbah was overwhelmed when he acknowledged, “this game today is no exception to the ones we have played so far. We are prepared for this match to give a new dimension to Liberians’ understanding of the game.”
Anthony Laffor said, “We are here to give the Liberians what will make them smile. This is the time for Liberians to be happy and on behalf of my colleagues we will play our best to give them victory.”
The optimism of victory over the Elephants is like an exploding fire, as “Hataye” centers and other gatherings across the country are enthused with the stakes in favor of Liberia
And what seems to fuel Liberians’ optimism is a sense of readiness that they felt following the national team’s last game against Guinea Bissau in Bissau.
“Until that victory, the national team had a poor away playing record,” said a young man on Carey Street, “so when they turned Bissau on fire with a 3-1 victory, it demonstrated to Liberians that the players are ready.”
Coach James Salinsa Debbah is also one of the reasons that many Liberians have developed trust in the team’s ability to triumph over their opponents, even before the first whistle is sounded.
Another young man on Carey Street said: “Debbah played the game and had international experience, so with his knowledge of the nuances of the game, he is able to direct the players in their battle to rewrite soccer history in Liberia.” For this young man, “The first fifteen minutes of the game will produce goals to dictate the trend of the game.”
Debbah’s trump card is perhaps what former national team coach J. Kaetu Smith was referring to when he told the Daily Observer, “I see evidence of aggression in the current group of players. They have the zeal and determination to play and win.”
True, ‘The Elephants’ are the current African Champions, and have had an improved history in African football. To their credit, they participated in the last World Cup in Brazil. And so playing against Liberia, which any objective analyst could describe as an underdog who is determined to change soccer history, places the Ivoirians in the most difficult position.
“We Liberians are record setters and with the kind of players on the team, we are convinced that victory will be certain,” said another Liberian, during an impressive discussion about Lone Star’s chances against the Ivorians today.
In a brief historical review of sporting links between Liberia and La Cote d’Ivoire in Thursday, the November 12 edition of the Daily Observer, the paper said, “As Liberia meets the Goliath of African football, the Ivorian Elephants, the Lone Star must play with their hearts and muster all the determination, faith and stamina to play the match, and play like David to win.”
So to conclude, we once again borrow the appeal by President Edwin Barclay, reported in yesterday’s editorial (of the Daily Observer) in his immortal Anthem, “The Lone Star Forever”:
“Then forward, sons of Freedom, March!
Defend the sacred heritage!
The nation’s call from age to age
Where’er it sounds ‘neath Heaven’s arch.
Wherever foes assail.
Be ever ready to obey
‘Gainst treason and rebellion’s front,
‘Gainst foul aggression. In the brunt
Of battle lay the hero’s way!
All hail, Lone Star, all hail!”
Lone Star National Team:
Goalkeepers: Tommy Songo, Salee Swen.
Defenders: Dirkir Glay, Gizzie Dorbor, Teah Dennis, Solomon Grimes.
Midfielders: Anthony Laffor, Alseny Keita, Zah Krangar, Patrick Gerhart, Sekou Conneh, Tonia Tisdel, Sam Johnson.
Strikers: William Jerbo, Patrick Wleh, Dio Williams.