Defensive Gamble Backfires: Teargas Mars Liberia – Togo Match

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Monrovia – It was another day of disappointment for Liberian football fans in what appears a repeat of the failed Korea, Japan World Cup 2002 bid when the country collapsed during the final home match gifting the Super Eagles of Nigeria the chance to reach the finals.

The Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS) was a chaotic scene before, during and after the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier between Liberia and Togo as Police indiscriminately fired teargas and pepper spray on fans, who gone to serve as the eleventh man on June 5.

At least three persons from the VIP stand needed urgent medical attention while many persons were wounded in a rush to enter the ATS.

A sachet of water, which is usually sold for five Liberian dollars, was sold for thirty-Liberian dollars because many persons needed at least a bag to wash away the toxic flame under a blazing sun.    

Defender Solomon Grimes and striker Seku Konneh were also affected but it was Grimes who suffered the most.

Scores of photographers scrambled to capture a glimpse of the action as the medics took him away for urgent treatment.   

And it was only a matter of time for the gates to be forcibly opened as the fans could no longer bear the inhumane treatment of the Police, who had run out of ideas at least an hour to the scheduled 16:00GMT (4:00PM Liberian time) kickoff.

And the ATS, which holds between 7,000-8,000 spectators, must have had at least twice its capacity.

But that didn’t deter the match officials, who must have recorded the ugly scenes, from allowing the proceedings to take place.

It didn’t take long for Liberia to find the curtain raiser after referee Ghead Grisha of Egypt signaled the start of play.

Gizzie Dorbor sent the stadium into ecstasy when he hammered home a loosed ball from a corner kick on four minutes.

Togo was stunned and they anxiously chased an equalizer by holding onto possession and looking for pockets of chances to exploit.

But they were soon grateful to goalie Kossi Agassa, who first parried a Francis Grandpa Doe effort away for a corner before Dirkar Glay came an inch close to goal number two.   

There is little to report about going into the end of the first half as the defensive pair of Glay and Teah Dennis struggled to Police star striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who marked almost a year return to international football.

Ten minutes after the break, William Jebor scored a spectacular bicycle kick but James Salinsa Debbah’s defensive gamble backfired and Liberia threw a precious two-goal advantage into the thin air.

As it was one year ago, Adebayor, once again, led the comeback with two assists as Floyd Ayite and Kodjo Laba drew Togo level.

Liberia is joint top of Group A with Tunisia, who beat Djibouti 3-0 in Djibouti City on June 3, but the North Africans lead by a better goal advantage.

Togo is a further two points back but Benin are currently the best second-placed side in the competition with eight points.

Another fairytale is over but most importantly, a golden chance of qualifying for an AFCON final after 14 years has gone in the wind.

Elsewhere and by courtesy of BBC Sport, Guinea-Bissau reached an AFCON final for the first time in their history without kicking a ball on June 5.

Kenya beat Guinea-Bissau’s closest challengers Congo Brazzaville 2-1 in Group E to secure an historic qualification for the African minnows that defeated Zambia on Saturday.

Zimbabwe was 3-0 winners over Malawi in Harare, and Ghana won 2-0 away to Mauritius.

Guinea-Bissau, from the tiny former Portuguese colony in West Africa, bolstered their chances of a first Cup of Nations appearance after a 3-2 win over 2012 champions Zambia on Saturday in front of a packed 20,000-capacity national stadium in Bissau.

But they needed Congo Brazzaville to lose in Kenya to seal their place in Gabon, and Kenya duly obliged, coming from behind to seal a 2-1 victory in Nairobi.

Congo took an early lead in the Group E match through Ismael Gonzalez who converted a 19th minute penalty.

But the Harambee Stars came back with goals from Ayub Timbe and Eric Johanna to seal Guinea-Bissau’s qualification.

Guinea-Bissau, captained by France-based Bocundji Ca, has 10 points in Group E, four more than Zambia and Congo Brazzaville. Kenya are bottom, two points further adrift.

Guided by local coach Baciro Cande, Guinea-Bissau – who have never been inside the world’s top 100 in the FIFA rankings – were considered outsiders when qualifying kicked off last June.

They have a population of just 1.7 million and no professional league, and with their financial problems they have regularly been unable to enter teams in continental competition.

But home and away victories over Kenya three months ago helped them upset the odds to win the group.

Ghana went into their game away to Mauritius as favorites to win Group H even without captain and leading striker Asamoah Gyan, who has a thigh injury.

The Black Stars did not disappoint despite a cagey first half which ended without any goals.

Swansea’s Andre Ayew broke the deadlock in the 71st minute with a strike from close-range to relieve some of the tension.

Christian Atsu doubled Ghana’s score seven minutes later, finding the net following a pass from defender Baba Rahman.

The victory means that Ghana has qualified for their 7th successive Africa Cup of Nations finals since 2006.

Zimbabwe clinched a place at Gabon 2017 with a 3-0 win over Malawi in Harare while their Group L rivals Guinea fell 1-0 in Swaziland.

Knowledge Musona was fouled inside the box and converted the penalty on 16 minutes to set up the convincing home victory for the Warriors.

Recently crowned South African Footballer of the Season, Khama Billiat, doubled the lead on 36 minutes, firing in from close range.

Roared on by a 40,000 crowd at the national stadium, Zimbabwe struck again a minute from time through a Cuthbert Malajila header.

In Group B, the Democratic Republic of Congo moved closer to the finals with a resounding 6-1 win in Madagascar but Central African Republic’s 3-1 win over visiting Angola stopped DR Congo from qualifying.

Cedric Bakambu and Paul-José M’Poku both hit a brace for DR Congo in Madagascar, with Crystal Palace’s recently married winger Yannick Bolasie, and Jordan Rolly Botaka also scoring.

Jhon Baggio Rakotonomenjanahary did score a consolation goal for the hosts, but they remain bottom of the group with just two points.

CAR’s win meant they closed the gap on DR Congo to two points with the group now set to be decided in the final round of qualifiers in September.

It is a similar situation in Group D where Burkina Faso beat Comoros 1-0 on Sunday to go joint top with Uganda ahead of the last round of qualifying.

Two goals from Getaneh Kebede helped Ethiopia win 2-1 away toLesotho in Group J, to boost their hopes of finishing as one of the best runners-up.

The Group C game between Benin and Equatorial Guinea – originally scheduled for 5 June – has been postponed until June 12 as long as Benin fulfils conditions set out by FIFA.

These are the penultimate qualifiers, with the group winners and the best two runners-up qualifying for the finals along with hosts Gabon.

The final round of group matches will be played in September.

Danesius Marteh, [email protected]
Photos Credit Ahmed Jallanzo, [email protected]

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