The Liberia Lone Star has been paired with Nigeria’s Super Eagles for the final round of qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), to be held in South Africa. The biggest football gala on the continent will showcase African elite national teams every two years. The Cup was won last year by Zambia.
According to reports, Nigerian football officials including its newly appointed coach Stephen Keshi had pleaded that the Eagles get a favorable opponent before the match. However, with a nation like Nigeria absent from a tournament as important as the African cup of nations is according to pundits, becomes less festive.
At 164 million people and fans, Nigeria’s participation in any African football tournament draws interest immediately from potential advertisers and it huge football audience. But is it not also true that Nigeria with its talented players must fight for a position instead of pleading for a special place and treatment?
Though Nigeria is a powerhouse in African football, it failed to qualify last year prompting the firing of coach Sampson Siasia and his Dutch assistant.
As coach, Siasia achieved a lot but as he soon discovered, traditional minnows in African football are no more when the Sylli Nationale of Guinea stunned Siasia’s Eagles in Abuja last year, drawing 2-2, with goals coming from Ishmael Bangoura who went first on the score sheet.
Despite the hype that occasioned Siasia’s appointment, Guinea whipped them at home in Conakry.
During that match, Nigeria fought hard and equalized with goals from Obinna Nsofor and the always consistent Ike Uche. The Super Eagles took the lead through a beautiful goal from the ‘magicman.’
His 71-minute goal sent the Nigerian fans to a rapturous celebration, and partying with hopes that the team were on their way to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. So far, Uche has been impressive for Nigeria. And to date, he remains the team most consistent scorer.
Nigeria went into the match needing just 1-0 to qualify, but the celebration and the lead that Uche gave Nigeria was short lived, when Ibrahima Traore’s equalizing goal came deep into stoppage time, which meant Guinea would qualify instead.
It was the first time Nigeria failed to qualify for the continental football fiesta since 1986. The Nigerian FA was so furious it refused to extend Siasia’s contract, no matter how much he pleaded.
This year’s draw in Johannesburg was interesting. Missing will be Egypt. The pharaohs were bullied to a 3-2 defeat at home in Alexandria by Central African Republic (CAR), who are little known on the continent compared to their North Africans counterparts and giants, who are the most celebrated African side to have won the cup seven times.
The returned leg in Bangui (CAR) saw a 1-1 draw, meaning the powerful Pharaohs would miss a second consecutive Nations’ Cup which takes place in South Africa in January.
A Nigerian newspaper counted the fortunes of the Nigerian Super Eagle against Liberia, when the paper reported that Nigeria would have qualified and will be represented in South Africa next year. “Their wishes [Super Eagles] were clearly answered considering that this year’s Nations Cup finalists, Cote d’Ivoire face a tricky qualification game against Senegal in the toughest draw of the final qualifying round,” the paper noted.
This means one of the two West African football giants will not be in South Africa.” Coach Keshi is said to be relieved at the pairing, but has cautioned his players and team to “take the Lone Star seriously.”
Keshi’s home grown Super Eagles trounced Lone Star in Monrovia a fortnight ago, leading the Liberian Football Association to sack its Italian coach Roberto Landi. The ties between both teams will be played out over two legs between September 7-9 and October 12-14.
No doubt the Nigerians are the favorites to qualify, according to analysts. However, if the Liberians put in an intensive qualification preparation, the team is certain to give the star-studded Nigerian team a run for their money.
It can’t be forgotten that the Lone Star almost costs the Eagles the ticket to Korea/Japan 2002 when Christopher Wreh scored a brace in the 4th and 47th minutes, before home fans of 15,000 in Painesville in 2002. Nwankwo Kanu’s 35th-minute goal was not enough, as the Liberians won 2-1.
Liberia no doubt is handed a tough call against a Nigerian team that has legions of top players in Europe, but the Lone Star must show what they are made of. “The Liberian Football Association must also find a way to bring back to the team the three expelled players who broke camp just before the Namibian game last month,” said a fan.
Dion Williams is a seasoned and experienced starting forward, while Francis Forkey Doe, despite being a ‘knuckle head’ is still the Lone Star best player. Also, Anthony Laffor has speed and flair when he pushes the ball. He is also the captain. Since his expulsion, the Liberian FA and coach Kaetu Smith has not officially said anything about him losing his arm band.
These are all important players Lone Star can’t afford to do without, especially given Nigeria’s talent.
If Smith must succeed with this current Lone Star team, he needs to cultivate a special relationship with his best players on the team. Coach Smith must also maintain a sense of discipline on the team, because star-studded players are always sometimes the hardest to manage.
Ralph Geeplay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org