It had to happen this time and national coach James Salinsa Debbah told the Daily Observer, “The victory is necessary to give our players the self esteem that they have lost for past defeats.” But Debbah also revealed that he had known from the beginning that Tunisia would fall in Monrovia and promised many others would also fall.
Known as the Miracle Man when he donned the number 10 jersey decades ago for the very team that he his coaching today, Debbah said he had anticipated a positive result, though there were ‘doubting Thomases’ who would not give the team any chance.
“I saw the opportunity,” Debbah said, “and went for it.”
Beating Tunisia 1-0 last Saturday afternoon in the second round of the qualifiers for the 2017 African Cup of Nations brought relief to a country that had been flogged by an unknown enemy, (Ebola) a name taken from a river in Congo.
“This is the beginning,” Debbah said while en route to the Roberts International Airport with his deputy, Kelvin Sebwe for a one month coaching trip to Germany, courtesy of the Liberia Football Association, to enable them gain some refresher coaching for the next four games against Djibouti, (away and home) Togo (at home) and Tunisia (away) in 2016.
With the victory over Tunisia, despite the loss (2-1) against Togo in the first match, Liberia has a good chance of topping Group A and as a result may qualify for the 2017 African Cup of Nations to be held in Gabon. Djibouti lost their second game to Togo last Saturday (2-0) and they are Liberia’s next opponents in Djibouti City, as its capital city is known.
Tunisia had beaten Djibouti 8-1 in the first leg and so with the Liberia national football team’s incredible performance last Saturday, Liberia has a good chance of overcoming them both home and away; treat Togo in Monrovia like Tunisia and in the worst case scenario, fight for a draw against Tunisia in the away encounter in Tunis to accumulate the maximum 13 points.
According to the rules, at the end of the competition, the countries that top the 13 groups of four teams each, along with the best two runners-up will be added to the host, Gabon, to make it a total of 16 countries for the tournament.
And for that to happen, Debbah said, “The Liberian government must come in with the finances needed so that we can qualify for the African Cup of Nations in 2017.”
Few days before the game, many Liberians took to the airwaves and expressed optimism that Liberia would win the encounter against Tunisia, despite the fact many said Tunisia has had better financial support for their national team. Some even predicted 1-0 while others predicted 2-0 in Liberia’s favor.
The optimism in the Lone Star camp could only be matched by the expectation of teeming fans who would not want any other result than victory. Even last Friday’s pre-game press conference at the headquarters of the Liberia Football Association in Monrovia demonstrated the frustration of sports journalists who wanted to know what would happen to the technical staff if the team did not win against Tunisia.
So with such dire anticipation, national team, under skipper Dennis Teah confidently led his men onto the field to honor an assignment that could have either won for them respect and hope or condemnation and recrimination.
The Gambian match officials held firmly to the game as it proceeded with the Tunisians who were extremely cautious not to let their defense too much laxity. They knew that since the Liberians were playing at home, there was too much pressure the visitors and did not want to commit unnecessary defensive blunders.
The Lones Star team, led by skipper Teah Dennis, went into the game but the Tunisians had planned to frustrate that effort. By the end of the first fifteen minutes, the efforts of Liberian strikers Sam Johnson, Anthony Laffor, Francis Grandpa Doe and Solomon Grimes had been neutralized by the Tunisian defense and spectators were becoming uneasy.
However, the players kept on the pressure and threw caution to te wind as saw that the Tunisians were relying on counter-attacks, but with many players in the defense.
The Tunisians had height advantage and playing the ball in the air suited them and this worked for them for a while until Lone Star decided to keep the ball on the ground, which paid off. They were able now to control the ball and at one point the ball was distributed from Laffor to Francis Doe, to Zack Krangar—remembering the popular format known many years ago as ‘from-me-to-you,’ as spectators cheered them on.
As Lone Star searched for the elusive goal the Tunisians simply waited for opportunities and did not demonstrate too much aggression comparable to their opponents. Lone Star wasted several set-pieces, like free-kicks and throw-ins but they showed with their repeated attacks into the Tunisians half that they were up to the task.
By the 78th minute, Lone Star’s Anthony Laffor, Francis Grandpa Doe, and William Jerbor were working overtime, and a resulting attack saw Anthony Laffor running hard with the ball on the wings.
The Tunisians, as usual had a compact defense. Running parallel towards the goal were several Lone Star players, including Francis Grandpa Doe.
Laffor did not waste too much time as he sent the ball over the Tunisia’s goal area, and as the ball flew across, Doe made a sacrifice to connect the ball into the net with his head as the Tunisian defense and their goalkeeper completely stranded.
It was exactly the 79th minute that made all the difference. The Tunisians who had engaged in much delay tactics as the time ticked away made some desperate attempts to open up their game but it was too late.
Lone Star: Salee Swen, Solomon Grimes, Dirki Glay, Teah Dennis, Patrick Gerhadt, Anthony Laffor, Sam Johnson, Francis Doe, William Jerbor, Gizzi Dorbor, Zack Krangar.
Meanwhile, Burkina Faso and South Africa were the biggest casualties of the Day Two matches on Saturday, suffering losses away from home.
They tasted defeats in encounters where much was expected of them as the journey for the places at the final tournament of the 31st edition of the showpiece continental football tournament gathers momentum.
‘Les Etalons’ of Burkina Faso, losing finalists at the 2013 edition in South Africa were undone by a Joel Mogorosi’s 50th minute strike, which handed Botswana victory in the Group D encounter in Francistown.
In Nouakchott, Mauritania overwhelmed South Africa beating them 3-1 to boost their chances in Group M. ‘Les Mourabitounes’ went up after five minutes after Bafana Bafana goalie Itumeleng Khune failed to make a firm grab of a shot from Ali Abeid from a free-kick.