Libya need to end winless streak
24 January 2012
Fairytale qualifiers Libya have not won at the Africa Cup of Nations since defeating Zambia when they hosted the tournament 30 years ago.
The Mediterranean Knights must repeat that feat when they face the Copper Bullets at the 35 000-seat Estadio de Bata on Wednesday to retain a realistic chance of reaching the quarterfinals from Group A at the 2012 championship.
Libya conceded a late goal and lost 1-0 to co-hosts Equatorial Guinea at the same venue last Saturday in the opening match of the biennial three-week African football showcase.
A few hours later at the same stadium Zambia caused the first shock of the mini-league phase by scoring two early goals and conceding only one against fancied Senegal as they defended desperately under relentless second-half pressure.
Brazilian coach Marcos Paqueta was part of an amazing chapter in Libyan football history as the team risked their lives travelling abroad to play elimination matches last year while civil war raged in the country.
Midfielder Walid El Khatroushi joined the rebels who ended the four-decade rule of Moamer Kadhafi before being persuaded to exchange an assault rifle for football kit.
"This is not the end of the story," insisted former Saudi Arabia handler Paqueta, "because we still have two group matches to play and every game is a different story."
"We are going to face Zambia and Senegal – the best two teams in our group – and it is going to get harder. My team wants to bring joy to the Libyan people after all the suffering they went through last year."
Zambia are jubilant after a win that meant so much because the 1993 national squad was flying to Senegal for a World Cup tie when their air force plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean not far from here and all 30 on board died.
"I can assure our nation we will not underestimate Libya, who we failed to defeat in two qualifiers for this tournament," stressed long-serving Zambia midfielder Isaac Chansa.
"The atmosphere within our camp is very good," he added, "and we are confident of going very far in this tournament with the coach (Herve Renard) demanding nothing less than a semifinals place."
While Libya fight to survive, Zambia know maximum points could seal a last-eight place and give them a genuine chance of topping the table and avoiding co-favourites Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals.
Life with the Libyan football team
BATA, Equatorial Guinea: Libya are the fairytale competitors at the Africa Cup of Nations but the journey from bloody civil war to the continental showcase has not been easy, as one of the team’s medical staff can testify.
Helvecio Pessoa linked up with the Libya team in July 2010, working with his Brazilian compatriot, coach Marcos Paqueta and the almost entirely Brazilian staff.
The 55-year-old, in an interview with AFP after Libya’s opening loss to co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, recounted the trauma of having to flee the country at the start of the revolution to topple dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
And he told of the remarkable efforts made to keep the Libya team operating against the back drop of the bombs and bullets so successfully that they ended up qualifying for the 2012 Cup.
Reflecting on circumstances before civil war erupted Pessoa said: “Life in Tripoli was normal, and safe.
“We lived amongst ourselves, eating churrasco. We never had any problem with Mohammmed (Gaddafi’s eldest son and the ex-president of the Libyan Football Federation).”
Then Libya erupted, with Pessoa recalling: “At the start of the uprising we were scared, but my family back in Brazil were even more concerned.
“I’ve got a son in the United States, we were speaking via Skype, then all of a sudden the connection was cut. I found out later that he broke down in tears as he was so scared.”
In February 2011 he and the rest of the Brazilian staff decided it was time to leave Libya.
“We went to the Libyan Football Federation’s headquarters – the building was destroyed.
“We went to see the Brazil ambassador, who gave us support. All the travel agencies were shut, we booked tickets on the internet.
“We went to the airport, but it was as if all the foreign population of Libya was there too.
“We returned the next day, each of us taking one small bag, some had their wives and children with them, only to find even more people there.
“A Libyan working for the embassy helped us through check-in and we managed to board the last two commercial flights on Alitalia for Rome.
“Since that day we’ve never returned to Libya.”
He and his compatriots on the Libyan team’s staff have been living in Brazil since, meeting up with the team in Tunisia.
“We spoke to the coach who stayed in Libya via Facebook.
“For the (qualifying) match against Mozambique held in Cairo we didn’t know the players.
“Most of them had come from Benghazi.
“The new political authorities had a black list (one of the names on that list was captain Tarek El Tayab, a Gaddafi supporter).
“It was difficult for Paqueta, because these were good players.”
He put Libya’s “miraculous” Nations Cup qualification down to the spirit of the squad.
“They never complain, I observed a big difference in the young players who earn lots of money and get up to no matter what – in contrast this squad were very serious and motivated.”
The only player attached to a regular club was midfielder Jamal Abdallah, who plays for Sporting Braga in Portugal.
“For all the others we had to work on their strength, with lots of work in the gym, but also work with the ball.”
We had to prepare in Qatar and in the United Arab Emirates, with 40 degree heat, humidity and during ramadan.
“Einstein would have gone mad with that equation!”
He says he and and the other staff with the team haven’t been paid for up to five months.
“We’re in the process of negotiating the backpay, it’ll be sorted out after this Nations Cup, the people at the Federation are correct.
“At the moment there aren’t the necessary security conditions to return to play in Libya. We don’t know when the Libyan league will be able to resume.
“In truth, we would have preferred not to have experienced all of that.”
Libya’s second match at the 2012 Cup is against Zambia in Bata on Wednesday.
African Cup of Nations: Libya 2 – 2 Zambia
Having been beaten 1-0 in their opening game to group winners and conquerors of Senegal Equatorial Guinea, Libya now sit on the brink of elimination after Zambia snatched a draw on a water-logged pitch in a game that kicked off an hour and fifteen minutes late thanks to torrential rain.
Unsurprisingly, Zambian coach Herve Renard endured with the same team which overcame Senegal in the opening group game 2-1, while his Libyan counterpart Marcos Paqueta made two changes to the team which lost to Equatorial Guinea, bringing Muhammad al-Maghrabi and Abubakr al-Abaidy in.
Despite an almost unplayable pitch (which shouldn’t have been given the approval of referee Koman Coulibaly), Libya came out strongly, scoring the first goal of the day when Ahmed Saad Osman ran onto a Walid Elkhatroushi’s excellent through ball and finished into the corner to Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene’s left.
The conditions played a massive part in the game, throwing game plans out of the window, especially for the Zambians, whose impressive passing approach that did them so well in the Senegal game was never an option, though the Libyan first goal sparked them into life, creating a number of chances heading towards half-time that ultimately went unconverted.
But then, just after the 30th minute mark, Emmanuel Mayuka scored his second of the tournament to bring the scores level, with a great right foot volley at the far post from Rainford Kalaba’s floated cross into Samir Abod’s goal. Another fine goal from Mayuka, who has quickly made a big impression, and will surely be attracting some more top-flight European interest after the competition ends.
Half-time brought a welcome respite from the conditions in what had been a far more entertaining game than the weather should have allowed – both teams coping quite well not to be too bogged down in the quagmire.
The second-half started at an even more frenetic pace than the first, with the Libyans this time needing only two minutes to get their noses back in front; Ahmed Saad Osman collecting substitute Ihab Albusaifi’s pass, evading Zambia’s defence, and shooting well past Kennedy Mweene to make it 2-1.
With the crowd just about settling back in their seats, another moment of magic from Mayuka gave Christopher Katongo the chance to get his team back on level terms almost immediately – Mayuka further showing off his acrobatic skills to send a wonderful overhead kick onto Katongo’s head, who scored from close up. Game on.
With stalemate on the cards, but plenty of time remaining on the clock, neither team looked happy to accept a draw, with chances at both ends, notably for Osman of Libya and Katongo, as well as his brother Felix for Zambia. But ultimately, the game ended a draw, with Zambia heading into second int he group behind Senegal’s conquerors Equatorial Guinea, and Libya holding onto the hope that they can beat the Senegalese and the group winners again triumph over Zambia by more than 2 goals.
Libya: 01-Samir Aboud (captain), 02-Rabea Aboubaker, 05-Younes Shibani, 06-Mohamed Esnani, 10-Ahmed Osman, 11-Mohamed El Mughrabi, 4-Ali Salama, 16-Abubaker Suiueinei, 17-Walid El-Khatroushi, 19-Ahmed Zuway, 23-Jamal Mohamed.
Zambia: 16- Kennedy Mweene, 02-Francis Kasonde, 03- Chisamba Lungu, 04- Joseph Musonda, 05- Hichani Himoonde, 08 – Isaac Chansa, 11- Christopher Katongo, 13- Stoppila Sunzu, 17 – Rainford Kalaba, 19- Nathan Sinkala, 20- Emmanueal Mayuka