African glory for Libyans who risked lives

22 December 2011 01:16

Libyan footballers risked their lives this year to fulfil Africa Cup of Nations qualifying fixtures and were rewarded with a place at the 2012 tournament.

Tripoli-based stars drove to Tunisia and those living in Benghazi to Egypt while war raged between pro- and anti-Moamer Kadhafi forces for control of the oil-rich north African state.

Unpaid Brazilian coach Manuel Paqueta joined his constantly changing squad in neighbouring countries to prepare for 'home' matches staged by Mali and Egypt and away assignments on the Comoros Islands and in Zambia.

Libya, whose national team was once captained by a son of ousted dictator Kadhafi, won 'homes' games in Bamako and Cairo and drew away twice to claim one of two places reserved for the best group runners-up.

No one played a bigger role in the football fairytale than 39-year-old Samir Aboud, who displayed the agility of a goalkeeper half his age to defy Zambia in a stalemate that sealed Cup of Nations qualification for only the third time.

Botswana and Niger secured places at the biennial CAF football showpiece for the first time against massive odds while defending champions Egypt, Algeria, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa were shock casualties.

A stunning 1-0 triumph in Tunisia got Botswana off to a perfect start and they lost just once in eight games while a perfect home record enabled Niger to top a pool including South Africa, Sierra Leone and Egypt.

Chasing a record fourth consecutive title, Egypt relied too heavily on ageing icons like Essam El Hadary, Wael Gomaa and Mohamed Aboutreika and the lone win came when they were ditched in favour of under-23 stars at home to Niger.

Samuel Eto'o had a rare miss from the penalty spot as Cameroon took only one point off resurgent Senegal and finished a distant second while Nigeria failed after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser at home against Guinea.

South Africa became an African football laughing stock as they 'celebrated' qualification after a home draw with Sierra Leone, believing goal difference separated teams only to discover later that the head-to-head rule applied.

Algeria were the fourth 2010 World Cup qualifier after Cameroon, Nigeria and hosts South Africa to miss out on the Cup of Nations after a terrible start saw them held by Tanzania and lose in the Central African Republic.

Ivory Coast emerged the most impressive qualifiers for the January 21-February 12 tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea after winning all six mini-league games as Benin and Rwanda offered surprisingly feeble resistance.

The Ivorians topped the monthly FIFA rankings as the year drew to a close followed by Ghana, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, South Africa, surprise side Cape Verde Islands and Tunisia.

A Tunisian revolution that ended with ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fleeing to Saudi Arabia was followed by a home-based national side winning the second African Nations Championship thanks to a 3-0 hiding of Angola in Sudan.

Gabon were shock winners of the first CAF under-23 championship after beating hosts Morocco, Nigeria overcame Cameroon to claim the youth title and Burkina Faso turned party-poopers to defeat home side Rwanda for the junior crown.

Tunisia and Morocco supplied the four finalists in the CAF club competitions with Esperance edging Wydad Casablanca for the Champions League title and Moghreb Fes pipping Club Africain on penalties for the Confederation Cup.

Esperance talked big ahead of the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan only to finish sixth of seven starters followng losses to Qataris Al-Sadd and Mexicans Monterrey and their unruly supporters caused embarrassment in the stands.

Veteran Egypt midfielder Ahmed Hassan equalled the 178-cap record of retired Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Al Deayea when he came on as a substitute against Brazil in Doha.

Most African football followers would instantly recognise Hassan, the swarthy 'general' in his mid-30s with movie-star looks, but the same cannot be said of Botswana striker Jerome Ramatlhakwane.

Despite little game time because of a dispute with his South African club, he rewarded the endless faith of national coach Stanley Tshosane by scoring five of the seven goals that propelled his country to the Cup of Nations.

Source: AFP