BATA, Equatorial Guinea
Ihaab Boussefi’s late second goal in Sunday night’s game between Libya and Senegal in the Africa Cup ensured the Libyans . . .[restrict]a 2-1 win. But it was not enough to put Libya through to the quarterfinals.
Libya was never expected to even reach the tournament with the civil war raging at home during its qualifying campaign. Some players even left the squad to fight for the rebels on the front line.
Somehow Libya made it, and at Estadio de Bata against Senegal the players celebrated an historic victory which was a just reward for the team’s perseverance.
“For us, this result was so important because of the situation and the problems, the painful situation in Libya for the people,” said Marcos Paqueta, Libya’s Brazilian coach.
No one illustrated what it meant to Libya more than veteran goalkeeper and captain Samir Aboud, who sank to his knees at the final whistle with his arms held out in front of him to give thanks.
After more than a decade with the team, Aboud could celebrate a victory at the African Cup.
Libya’s team made the final at home in 1982 but failed to win a game at its only other trip to the tournament in 2006.
To reach Gabon and Equatorial Guinea this year, the team had to play its home games in Mali and Egypt as chaos reigned back in Libya. Yet it came through qualifying unbeaten and, despite a loss in its opening game against co-host Equatorial Guinea at the tournament, lifted itself for a creditable draw against Zambia before the success against the Senegalese.
At Estadio de Bata, Libya also had to rally after Senegal equalized following Boussefi’s fifth-minute opener. But striker Boussefi, one of 12 home-based players in the squad who had no club football in the buildup because of the suspension of Libya’s league, popped up with a sweetly struck volley in the final minutes.
“The players did a great job,” Paqueta said. “They provided a big effort and this crowned the achievements they have made since the beginning.”
The coach also called for Libya’s new leaders and its reformed football federation to support the team and help it develop, and not let its “crowning moment” go to waste.
Libya’s joy contrasted with the despair of Senegal’s highly rated players, who fell to a third straight loss at the Cup of Nations and an embarrassing end after being tipped as a possible contender for the title.
Even with one of the best forward lines at the tournament – which included Newcastle strikers Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse, Lille’s Moussa Sow and captain Mamadou Niang – Senegal badly underperformed.
The team slipped to 2-1 defeats in all three games to exit the tournament without a point for the first time in its history and put coach Amara Traore’s future in serious doubt.
Traore remained defiant afterward, however.
“There is no question, I will not resign. That is clear,” Traore said. “I will not resign. I can’t be clearer than that. It’s clear. I will not resign. I have a burning desire to continue. The only certainty I have is to continue.”