Cheering Liberian soccer fans who glued their faces to television sets as the national soccer team, Lone Star, took on the Elephants of La Cote d’Ivoire could not believe what they were seeing.
The match was played at the Houphouet Boigny Sports Stadium in Abidjan yesterday, and from the word ‘go,’ the Ivorians commanded the pace of the game as they relaxed their set pieces and pushed the ball around.
Like a repeat of the first leg in Monrovia, the Ivorians, perhaps playing on their favorite pitch, had the game wrapped up with a purpose.
But the most shocking evidence was the failure of the national team to rise to the occasion as the Ivorians once again secured the first goal in the presence of a favorable home crowd who cheered them on.
Liberians watching the game on television, and even those at the stadium, could not believe what was happening. They, however, held on to the hope that perhaps Stars could shine better than Elephants, and waited for the game to play itself out.
Shockingly, the Ivorians, who had had a narrow 1-0 lead in the first leg before a large Liberian audience, secured goal number two.
It was like a dream. What happened to the team that rose to the occasion when it was needed, forcing the Ivorians, despite securing the only goal in the first leg, to resort to delaying tactics? What happened to the spirit that moved the Lone Star players to call of the Ivorians’ bluff?
With 2-0 before the start of the second half, many people thought the best of Lone Star was yet to come.
They might have remembered what the team did in Monrovia but the only problem was that the second leg was being held in Abidjan. As the game proceeded and the Ivorians pushed the ball forward, it began to dawn on Lone Star’s sympathizers that the battle could be lost.
“Why are they playing like that?” a fan asked no one in particular at a venue in Paynesville, where many Liberians had congregated to watch the game.
Another problem was that Lone Star players were not holding on to the ball, and the Ivorians seemed to win the ball from any of the Liberian players. Could it be tiredness? Did it have to do with stamina? The answers were hard to come by.
Once again, Tonia Tisdall, who seemed to come to the game after the second half joined the players on the field and brought in some hard running-passes. It was the same guy whose presence in the first half in Monrovia changed the face of the game. But for this time, it appeared that the battle was too heavy for him, for the team was already down by 2-0.
As the Lone Star pushed on for at face-saving consolation goal, it was the Ivorians who had the last laugh when a swift counterattack found Lone Star, pivoting around Teah Dennis, wanting and breaking in tatters.
So when goalkeeper Tommy Songo fell face-flat after he was beaten and saw the ball in the net, giving the Ivorians goal number three against nothing from Lone Star, many concluded that the dream for Liberia to join the group stages for the 2018 Russia World Cup would remain how it began: a dream.
Other results: Cameroon 0-0 Niger; Ghana 2-0 Comoro Island; Nigeria 2-0 Swaziland; Algeria 7-0 Tanzania; Mali 2-0 Botswana; Rwanda 1-3 Libya; CGO 2-1 Ethiopia; Egypt 4-0 Chad; Tunisia 2-1 Mauritania; South Africa 1-0 Angola; Burkina Faso 2-0 Benin.