Monrovia - Monrovia Breweries FC head coach Francis Sarploh has taken the blame for their elimination from the 2017 CAF Confederation Cup.
Breweries may have planned to fail as Algeria’s Jeunesse Sportive de Kabylie (JSK) staged a miraculous comeback to win 4-0 in Tizi Ouzou and qualify 4-3 on aggregate at the Stade Du 1er Novembre in the preliminary round on February 19.
Mohamed El Hadi Boulaouidet converted a 23rd minute penalty that was contested but center referee Nasrallah Jaouadi was convinced about the infringement.
Koceila Berchiche made it two-zero from another set piece when
Bilal Mebarki rolled the ball to a teammate from a corner kick and received a back pass before dribbling two defenders inside the six-yard box to unleash a loosed ball for Berchiche.
From the moment, Breweries were tactically exposed and mentally unsettled and the cold weather, couple with the 19-hour flight, made bad matter worst.
And the Algerians knew their qualification was minutes away going for break.
There were five changes made to the squad that lost the first leg as Paul Thomas Izerghouf, Sofiane Khelili, Malik Asselah, Mohammed Abdelali and Bilal Tizi Bouali were either relegated to the bench or overlooked.
Back from recess, Boulaouidet leveled the aggregate score in the 62nd minute when he was teed-up unmarked in the six yard box against the run of play.
And Mebarki sealed one of the historic comebacks in the tournament 20 minutes from time with a sumptuous volley that caught goalie Abdulai Koulibaly unaware.
Breweries had the brightest of chances, having won the first leg 3-0 at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS) on February 10 in Monrovia.
Sarploh was optimistic of their qualification but cautiously refused to dwell on mathematical postulations, warning that an early departure was necessary.
But his team may have suffered from jetlag after a long journey from Africa to Europe and back to Africa.
“Thank God for [our] safe arrival. I do hereby appreciate all those who made this trip possible: MYS [Ministry of Youth & Sports], LFA [Liberia Football Association] and MCB Inc. [Monrovia Club Breweries Incorporated]. I want to also appreciate Mr. Musa Bility, Mr. Robert Sirleaf, my friend and brother Sekou Konneh and others for their support.
“To our many fans, supporters and well-wishers, I say thanks for always being there for us. I will remiss if I do not apologize for the heavy loss in Algeria.
“As head of the technical staff, I take 100% responsibility for the dismal performance of the team, which culminated into JSK qualifying on 4-3 aggregate after going down to us 3-0 in Liberia.
“4-0 loss away is not what our fans, supporters and public deserve. To my colleagues, I say let us not put up any defence against the many criticisms but accept now and come up with corrective actions to avoid such embarrassment in the future.
“Again, please find place in your hearts to forgive us. Notwithstanding, in my subsequent post, I feel obliged to divulge to you what went wrong,” Sarploh wrote on Facebook on February 22.
Barrack Young Controllers (BYC), who had a CAF Champions League preliminary second leg with Stade Malien, left Monrovia early February 14 but Breweries left in the afternoon of February 17.
The journey took Breweries from Monrovia to Accra, Accra to Istanbul, Istanbul to Algiers and Algiers to Tizi Ouzou.
Sports journalist Kla Wesley of Bush Chicken, who traveled with the team, said Breweries waited in transit for seven hours in Accra before boarding a seven-hour flight to Turkey.
He said they arrived in Istanbul on February 18 at 4:20AM and had to wait until 12:30PM for their flight to Algeria, arriving at the Houari Boumediene airport in Algiers at 4:15PM.
Altogether, the journey from Liberia to Algeria consisted of 13 hours of flight time and 16 hours in transit in Ghana and Turkey.
The only meals given to the players, according to Wesley, was the food served on the planes and were taken to their hotel two hours after their arrival due to delays from the Algerians.
Before their departure, Sarploh prayed to God for the long flight “not to negatively impact my players' physiological response to the game”.
Breweries had 30 minutes of rest and were driven to the stadium for a training session that lasted for more than an hour under a very cold weather.
So where did it all go wrong for a team that had the brightest of chances for qualification?
Kelvin Sebwe is the technical director for sports development at the Ministry of Youth & Sports, having made more than 70 appearances for Liberia.
Sebwe, a much-travelled footballer, played for clubs in France, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates.
However, he spent the major part of his career in Greece, where he played for eight different clubs.
And Sebwe told UNMIL Radio’s Sports Extra program that Breweries’ trip to Algeria was a disaster in the making.
“That was really wrong. You can’t play professional football and travel the way they did."
"Algeria or North Africa has been one of the difficult places to play football as an away team at club or national level, especially when you come from a different weather.
“I was on my way to work on Friday when the team bus passed by me. I knew they were in for a bad result. Why did they go at the time when BYC left much earlier? I understand it had to do with finances.
The game is such a way that the end result is when the players get on the field. The game is played from an administrative and technical point of view,” said Sebwe on February 20.
Breweries, who won the triple last season (second division, LFA knockout and Super Cups), can now concentrate on the league as BYC, who eliminated Mali’s Stade Malien 7-6 on penalties after a 1-1 aggregate, prepare for Clube Ferroviario da Beira of Mozambique over two legs in the first round in March.