Monrovia – Liberia needed a bucket of sweat to beat Djibouti 1-0 in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier at the Stade National El-Hadj Hassan Gouled Aptidon in Djibouti City on March 24. South Africa-based Anthony Snothi Laffor scored in the 57th minute to move Liberia leveled with Togo, who play Tunisia in Tunis on March 25, on six points in Group A.
At half time, Liberians, who followed the live commentary on UNMIL Radio from Djibouti, were unpleased with the performance. “We are not anticipating a draw. These guys [Djibouti] are elephant meat. Everybody can be cutting the meat and you go there and can’t get a piece. It means you are very lazy.
“If Lone Star gives us a draw, we will be very disappointed in the entire football team. We don’t need a draw. Another thing is that not every foreign-based player is a professional player. You become professional player based on the league you play in,” said Ben Roberts from 12th Street Sinkor. But back from the break, head coach James Salinsa Debbah, who opted for a four-four-two formation, replaced Patrick ‘Ronaldinho’ Wleh of Selangor FA in Malaysia with Kpah Sherman of Santos FC in South Africa.
And it was a Sherman solo run that won a corner throw, which was taken by Israel-based defender Gizzie Dorbor that led to Laffor’s goal. Liberia last won an Afcon qualifier away when Isaac Tondo scored twice (first and 61st minutes) in a 2-0 win over Mauritius at the Stade Anjalay on June 16, 2001 in a 2002 Afcon qualifier.
And Laffor, who arrived few hours to kick-off due to Mamelodi Sundowns’ Caf Champions League 1-1 draw away to AC Leopards of Congo on March 19, was pleased to have collected three points.
“I feel very good, especially for my travels to get here. Today’s game was very important to the team and the Liberian people. I just want to say thank you to my teammates for the support today. I’ve been away from the team but the coaches gave me an opportunity because of the belief they had in me,” said Laffor, who scored his third international goal in more than 30 caps. As a captain, Laffor endured the wrath of media for his lack of goals, having scored 38 goals in 147 appearances for Jomo Cosmos and Supersport United in South Africa.
After more than 20 appearances with two goals, Laffor swapped the famous #14 jersey worn by the legendary George Weah for the #18 shirt and scored in the 50th minute in a 2-0 win over Uganda in a 2014 World Cup qualifier at the Samuel Kanyon Doe (SKD) sports complex on March 24, 2013. Just as he did three years ago, Laffor dedicated the goal and victory to Liberians.
“I just want to give it to the Liberian people for believing in me and us. I want to say thank you to Musa Hassan Bility and the technical staff. They really did well for us today,” he told UNMIL Radio. On October 13, 2015, William Jebor of SD Ponferradina in Spain helped Liberia to break a 14-year record of having not won a World Cup qualifier away with a hat-trick in a 3-1 victory over Guinea Bissau in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in Bissau.
Jerbo played no part in Thursday’s historic win but should be available for the second leg at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in Monrovia on March 29. Midfielders Tonia Tisdell of Karsiyaka Karabükspor in Turkey and Melvin George of Hantharwady United FC in Myanmar didn’t make the trip due to unexplained reasons. But Debbah may have been undeterred by their absence given the return of midfielders Theo Weeks of Ermis Aradippou in Cyprus and Dulee Johnson of Molde FK in Norway.
Defender Omega Roberts of FK Donji Srem Pecinci in Serbia, who last played in a 2-2 draw with Nigeria in a 2013 Afcon qualifier on September 8, 2012 at the SKD, didn’t make the 18-man squad released by the technical staff although he was in Djibouti. The odds did point to an away victory with Djibouti given 11.75 and Liberia given 1.07 and Debbah is now looking ahead to the return leg.
“Were you expecting more than one goal? Three points is three points regardless of how many goals you win with. I am happy we took the three points and that’s the most important thing. “Now we know our opponents. We know what kind of system we are going to play with [in Monrovia]. That is what made the game very difficult for us because we didn’t know who we were going up against but we will start preparing from tonight,” Debbah told UNMIL Radio’s Hilary Justine Colnoe in Djibouti City.
Djibouti have now lost 26 matches (friendlies, World Cup and Afcon qualifiers) played between May 31, 2008 to present at home and away and another defeat is imminent. They drew 1-1 with Sudan at home in a friendly on January 4, 2009 in their only positive result.
Djibouti lost their group matches in the 2015 Council for East and Central African Football Associations (Cecafa Cup) in Ethiopia, 2-0 to South Sudan on November 23; 3-0 to Malawi on November 25 and 4-0 to Sudan on November 27. They have never qualified for any major international competition while Liberia participated in the finals of the 1996 and 2002 Africa Cup of Nations.
Liberia: Tommy Song’o, Solomon Grimes, Gizzie Dorbor, Teah Dennis Dirkir Glay, Theo Weeks Lewis, Anthony Laffor (Sekou Konneh 70’), Zah Krangar (Dulee Johnson 65’), Dioh Williams, Sam Johnson and Patrick Wleh (Kpah Sherman 53’).
Unused substitutes: Gallay James, Alvin Maccornel, Trokon Zeon and Alsény Keita. Coach James Debbah
Match officials: Idris Mehammed Osman, center referee; Angesom Ogbamariam, assistant referee #1 and Berhe O’michael, assistant referee #2.
Reporting: Danesius Marteh, firstname.lastname@example.org