COUNTDOWN TO 2012 AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS …wiping the tears of a weeping nation – Libya

Tough qualification

The qualification for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations has been very tough for some nations. More often than not political instability goes a long way to affect many facets of a society. Indeed, on a very uneven continent of Africa, where football associations are like the human fingers, which are all not equal in terms of governance and resources, political commitment plays a major role in the decision of a nation to partake in the qualification for a tournament of the continent or one that the continent is involved in. The African continent sees the highest number of withdrawals from qualification for its tournaments and tournaments it partakes in. Indeed, the complex calculation that characterized the last day of qualification for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations especially for Group G teams of South Africa, Niger and Sierra Leone derived from the withdrawal of Mauritania from the qualification series. Even with few days to go with the start of qualification for the 2014 World Cup, Mauritius has withdrawn from the qualifiers.

Most of this withdrawal result because of political instability and lack of will of some African governments to commit financially to playing in the qualifiers.

Libya

But one North African country refused to be affected by political instability it faced at home. Libya began the qualification to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in September, 2010 just like 43 other countries. They drew goalless against Mozambique in their first match. However, just two ‘days’ into the qualifiers for Gabon/Equatorial Guinea, Libya was hit by a civil war. Incidentally, Libya’s 1-0 win over Zambia at the June 11 Stadium on 10th October, 2011 in Tripoli became the first and only qualifier the country would play at home.

The Greens, as they were nicknamed, were forced to play their next two home matches on grounds designated by the Confederation of African Football(CAF). On March 28, 2011, Libya had to play their match against the Comoros at the Stade 26 Mars in Bamako, Mali. Fortunately, they emphatically won 3-0. Since the political upheaval had not subsided at a time they were to play their next home match, Libya had to settle for Egypt’s Petro Sport Stadium as their home ground. They managed a 1-0 win over Mozambique. Let me mention that during the period of war, Libya lost the right to host and participate in the African U-20 Championship. Libya also fell heavily from a hard-won 10th position they placed on the FIFA Ranking for the continent before the war.

Zambia v Libya

In the face of these harsh moments, Libya’s last game was going to decide their fate in making it to Equatorial Guinea/Gabon. They were to religiously guard their undefeated run in the qualifiers. A win for them would take them through automatically at the expense of Zambia while a draw would not deal any major blow as they could qualify as one of the two best runners-up. The latter was what they had in Lusaka. Libya fought to the last drop of their blood. Pressure upon pressure from the home side did not crumble players who were reeling from the pain of a civil war in their country. The goalkeeper Samir Aboud came out the hero that day. The team jubilated after that draw. Though they did not know their fate as they finished second by that result, the jubilation, which the coach Marcos Paqueta later pointed out, symbolized victory for all Libyans as they were still in the throes of war.

Libya’s jubilation was crowned with announcement that they qualified with fellow North Africans, Sudan, as the two best runners-up.

Within a month of qualification, Libya’s civil war reached a climax after the head of state, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, was arrested and later killed in his hometown Sirte.

Libya can win 2012 AFCON

I must state that the 2012 African Nations Cup will be memorable to Libya. During the draw on the 29th of October, 2011 in Malabo, it came out that Libya will play co-hosts in the opening match of the tournament. Indeed, it will mark a memorable moment for the eleven players who will be on the pitch while the anthem of Libya is played. Libyans in general will relish the moment. My wish is that the woes of Libya are wiped with a win of the tournament. Nonetheless if that Herculean task, I must admit, does not come to fruition, playing in the opening match alone will be a symbol of victory for a nation wrecked by war.