Monrovia - Horrible goalkeeping and defensive blunders were displayed at the Stade Mustapha Ben Jannet in Monastir when Tunisia hammered Liberia 4-1 in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier on September 4.
Report by Danesius Marteh, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wahbi Khazri, who plays for Sunderland in the English Premier League, gave the Tunisians a five-minute lead when a chipped ball beat the offside trap, landed on Khazri’s chest before he slotted past the hapless Galley James of Watanga in goal.
William Jerbo had a golden opportunity to level the score when an Anthony Laffor pass rolled inside the six-yard box but Jerbo’s timing was too poor by the narrowest of margin.
Local-based Taha Khenissi of Esperance made it 2-0 before the break when James woefully missed the ball with a two-footed clearance, which turned out to be a blessing as Khenissi rolled the ball in an empty net in the 35th minute.
Central defender Teah Dennis and Dirkir Glay and defensive midfielder Alseny Keita were guilty as charged for the goal.
Back from recess, Liberia head coach James Salinsa Debbah replaced Keita with Seku Conneh, Van Dave Harmon with Mark Paye and Theo Weeks with Oscar Murphy Dorley in an attempt to take the game to the hosts.
And it paid-off when striker Paye, who scored 12 goals in 12 matches to help Barrack Young Controllers (BYC) to the first division championship, scored an in swinger in the 70th minute.
But local-based Saber Khalifa of Club Africain increased the score when James deflected a safe in his direction in the 73rd minute and local-based Hamza Lahmar of Etoile du Sahel scored a 77th minute penalty to confirm their ticket in December’s draw and a trip to Gabon next year.
Togo beat Djibouti 5-0 in Lome to qualify as one of two best runners-up with goals from Vietnam-based Vincent Bossou in the 25thminute, Belgium-based Mathieu Dossevi of Standard Liege in 44thminute, Fo-Doh Laba in the 52nd minute and Ghana-based Komlan Agbegniadan of Wafa in the 87th and 90th minutes respectively.
Youth and Sports Minister Saah Charles N’tow, Montserrado County Senator George Weah and Grand Gedeh County Representative Zoe Emmanuel Pennue watched the humiliation from the VIP box.
Tunisia topped Group A with 13 points; Togo are second with 11 points; Liberia are third with 10 points while Djibouti are bottom-ranked having conceded 24 goals.
Liberia won the first leg 1-0 at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS) on September 4, 2015 and was hoping to repeat history after a goalless draw with Tunisia in Sfax on February 10, 1995 in qualifying for their first Afcon finals in South Africa in 1996.
At the end of those qualifiers and just as it was before Sunday’s do or die match, Liberia were leveled on 10 points with Tunisia, having won the first leg 1-0 at the Samuel Kanyon Doe (SKD) sports complex in Paynesville on April 23, 1995.
Jonathan Boye Charles Sogbie scored a 64th minute winner in a group that included Senegal, Togo, Mauritania and Guinea Bissau, who later withdrew after three matches with a win and two defeats.
But things have dramatically changed 21 years later and the odds were hugely stark against Liberia, who have been poor travelers until Debbah and crew broke a 15-year record when Liberia beat Djibouti 1-0 in a 2017 Afcon qualifier at the Stade du Ville on March 24 in Djibouti City.
Debbah and company also broke a 14-year record when Liberia beat Guinea Bissau 3-1 at the Estadio 24 de Setembro in a 2018 first round World Cup qualifier second leg on October 13, 2015 in Bissau.
But those memorable results have come against weaker teams and defeats against Ivory Coast over two legs in November 2015 in the 2018 second round World Cup qualifiers and against Togo in a 2017 Afcon qualifier in Lome on June 14, 2015 have drawn question marks over Debbah’s technical ability to face quality oppositions.
Any if Liberia’s performance on June 5 at the ATS in which Togo came from two goals down to draw 2-2 is anything to go by then Liberians weren’t hoping for Christmas in September.
Debbah was problematic at worst and controversial at best as a player and those bad omens have since followed him in the dugout.
His appointment was hugely criticized in November 2014 largely due to his managerial inexperience and controversies have been commonplace since then.
Debbah has been in the media for all the wrong reasons from recalling unused players at club level to cries over salary arrears and from metaphoric jokes about his resignation to seeking medical in the United States of America.
His recall of Sekou Jabateh-Oliseh from the international wilderness to face Togo and a decision to hand William Jerbo the famous #10 jersey were signs of bad things to come but the teargas and pepper spray used by the police on fans and players only confirmed the writings on the wall against Togo.
And Liberians were told about another controversy before their departure to Rabat and Monastir.
Deputy Coach Kelvin Sebwe was unfairly excluded from the trips on allegations of inciting his former international teammates, who were dismissed by the Liberia Football Association (LFA) in June.
Sebwe told Weekend Sports on Fabric 101.1FM on August 27 that he was unaware of the team’s preparation and won’t be used like a toy but LFA president Musa Bility told a news conference on August 29 that Sebwe remains the deputy coach.
Bility also said it was better for Sebwe to remain in Monrovia so as not to distract the team’s focus with the row between him and Debbah.
Malaysia-based Francis Grandpa Doe, who scored the winner against Tunisia, also missed the return leg. Like Debbah, Doe is accustomed to controversies.
He told the New Dawn program on Fabric 101.1FM on August 31 that he won’t be used like a toy after it emerged that Bility and Debbah had a quarrel over his inclusion before their departure to Rabat for an unrecognized Fifa friendly international in which Morocco under-23 beat Liberia 4-2 in Fes on August 31 with a hat-trick for Oualid Azaro.
Debbah handed debuts to few new comers, including Australia-based Emile Damey, who scored in the 80th minute.
But nobody took clues from the abysmal performance of Captain Dennis, goalie James and Glay, scored in the 41st minute.
Dorley, who recently transferred to Trakai FK of Lithuania from Monrovia Club Breweries in Liberia, was also handed a start while Laffor and Solomon Grimes were second half substitutes.
CAFnamed Jen Medard Kossa of Congo as match commissioner but their decision to select South Africa’s Daniel Frazer Bennett as center referee went unnoticed.
Bennett oversaw Liberia’s 6-1 defeat to Nigeria in a 2013 Afcon qualifier on October 13, 2012 in Calabar.
The former Premier Soccer League (PSL) referee was assisted by compatriots Zakhele Thusi Silwela and Mothibidi Stevens Khumalo.
Born in Dewsbury, England on August 22, 1976, Bennett has been an international referee since 2003.
Bennett, who is a school teacher at Mondeor Primary in Johannesburg, was voted PSL referee during the 2000/2001 and 2010/2011 seasons.
2017 Afcon qualifiers’ round-up
The campaign began on Friday when South Africa and Mauritania drew 1-1 in Nelspruit in Group M while Cameroon beat Gambia 2-0 in Limbe on Saturday to top the group with 14 points.
Elsewhere, Ethiopia beat Seychelles 2-1 in Awasa in Group J on Saturday while Algeria, who has already won the group, beat Lesotho 6-0 in Blida on Sunday.
Angola drew 1-1 with Mauritania in Luanda on Saturday while DR Congo beat the Central African Republic 4-1 in Kinshasa on Sunday to top Group B with 15 points.
Ghana and Rwanda drew 1-1 in Accra in Group H while Mozambique beat Mauritius 1-0 in Maputo on Saturday respectively. Despite the shock, Ghana topped the group with 14 points.
Nigeria beat Tanzania 1-0 on Saturday in Uyo in Group G, which was won by Egypt with 10 points after collecting four points from Nigeria and the withdrawal of Chad.
Cape Verde missed their chance to finish as one of two best runners-up following a 1-0 defeat to Libya in Praia on Saturday.
Morocco, who already won Group F, beat Sao Tome and Principe 2-0 in Rabat on Sunday.
Senegal became the only team with a 100-percent record in the qualifiers following a 2-0 win over Namibia in Dakar on Saturday while Niger drew goalless with Burundi in Niamey on Sunday in Group K.
And for the second time in Group I, Ivory Coast drew 1-1 with Sierra Leone in Abidjan to complete on Saturday.
The Ivorians won the group with six points because matches against Gabon, who are hosting next year’s finals, are considered as friendlies.
In Sunday’s early kick-off Malawi beat Swaziland 1-0 in Blantyre in Group L, which has been won by Zimbabwe, who lost 0-1 to Guinea in Conakry.
Burkina Faso beat Botswana 2-1 in Ouagadougou in a match that produced three red cards while Uganda beat Comoros Island 1-0 in Kampala in Group D.
The teams are leveled on 13 points but Burkina Faso topped the group on the head-to-head record, having beaten Uganda 1-0 in Ouagadougou on March 26 and drawn 0-0 in Kampala on March 29.
Uganda qualified as one of two best runners-up.
Zambia drew 1-1 with Kenya in Ndola in Group with Guinea Bissau, who won Group E with 10 points, lost to Congo 0-1 in Brazzaville.
So the finalists going into December’s draw are hosts Gabon, Tunisia, Togo, DR Congo, Mali, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Guinea Bissau, Morocco, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Senegal, Zimbabwe and Cameroon.
Liberia: Galley James; Solomon Grimes, Gizzie Dorbor, Dirkir Glay, captain Teah Dennis; Alseny Keita (Seku Conneh 52’), Van Dave Harmon (Mark Paye 63’), Theo Weeks (Oscar Murvee Dorley 63’), Anthony Laffor; William Jerbo and Sam Johnson
Tunisia: Aymen Mathlouthi, Ali Maâloul, Hamdi Nagguez, Aymen
Abdennour, Siyam Ben Youssef, Bilel Mohseni, Hamza Lahmar, Aymen Ben Amor, Saâd Bguir, Wahbi Khazri and Taha Yessine Khnissi