By Mohamed Assed.
Tripoli, 4 July:
The Libyan football team made it through to . . .[restrict]the final of the 9th Arab Nations Cup after sending the Saudi team crashing out of the tournament on Tuesday in a 2-0 victory in the first semi-final game. The match took place in Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal stadium in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah before a strong crowd of Saudi supporters.
Libya will face Morocco in the final next Friday at 8:00 p.m. Libya time. The Saudis will play Iraq for third place next Thursday.
In spite of the numerous quality players fielded in the match from both sides, the game was not very entertaining with both teams reliying on strict defensive tactics. Libya’s first goal was scored by defender Walid Jalal Al-Sabai in the 75th minute, while Ahmed Saad secured Libya’s passage to the final with a successfully converted penalty kick in the 96th minute of the game.
Libya’s coach, Abdulhafeed Arbich, fielded a formation composed of 4 defenders and 4 midfielders (2 defensive midfielders, 1 left-sided and another right-sided midfielder) with Libyan prodigy star Ahmed Saad as a second striker/attacking midfielder behind Mohammed Al-Ghanoudi, Libya’s only striker.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s coach and AC Milan’s former star, Frank Rijkaard, fielded Saudi Arabia’s usual formation throughout the tournament with 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 strikers.
Both teams were reluctant to play an open game given the importance of the match plus the fact that both teams were afraid to concede the first goal. As a result, both sides displayed strict defensive tactics, and most of the action was concentrated in the middle of the pitch during the beginning of the first half.
Saudi Arabia’s reliance on the offside trap to stop Libya’s attacks was apparent, especially in the first ten minutes of the game as Ahmed Saad was caught in an offside position twice. On the other hand, Libya’s defenders remained deep in their position as they successfully undid the few Saudi chances thrown at them.
Arbich did very well to read the game as he masterfully annulled the threatening attacks from the Saudi right-back defender, Khalid Al-Ghamdi, by ordering Ahmed Saad to drop deep down the right flank of the Saudi defense thus stopping the dangerous runs of Al-Ghamdi. Libya relied on Ahmed Saad’s pace and audacious crosses to snatch the opening goal. However, the Saudi defense did very well to apply the offside trap tactic.
Saudi Arabia was very close to breaking the deadlock in the 34th minute of the game when Abdulmajeed Al-Roueily took advantage of a Libyan defensive mistake and went one-on-one with Libyan goalkeeper, Mohammed Nashnoush, to shoot the ball off the target. After that, Saudi Arabia took control of the match until the end of the first half.
In the second half, Abdulhafeed Arbich changed Libya’s formation to move from 4-4-1-1 to a formation that fielded two strikers instead of one. As Arbich substituted midfield player, Mohammed Gnao with striker Ihab Al-Bousefy, Libya’s formation became composed of 4 defenders and 3 midfielders with Ahmed Saad remaining in position as a second striker behind Libya’s two strikers, Mohammed Al-Ghanoudi and Ihab Al-Bousefy.
Saudi Arabia’s Rijkaard fielded the same formation in the second half, while instructing Abdulmajeed Al-Roueily to move to the left side of the pitch instead of the right side. Rijkaard’s tactic was successful as Saudi Arabia posed a significant threat on Libya’s defense in the first ten minutes of the second half. Nevertheless, Arbich was quick to react as he instructed Abdulaziz Breech to aggressively mark Abdulmajeed Al-Roueily in order to lessen the dangers down the left flank.
Arbich and Rijkaard entered in a “chess game” as Rijkaard reacted from his part to Arbich’s successful tactic to mark Al-Roueily by substituting Saudi midfielder, Ageyl Assahbi by Ahmed Walby, and by ordering Al-Roueily to move from a left-back defender to an attacking midfielder behind the strikers.
Attempts by both teams to open the score continued throughout the second half until the turning point of the match in the 75th minute when Libya managed to break the deadlock as Mohammed Al-Sanany passed a well crossed ball from a free-kick that found an unmarked Walid Jalal Al-Sabai. This latter sent in a cool right-foot finish in the back of the net of Khalid Shrahly, Saudi Arabia’s goalkeeper.
After the goal, Saudi Arabia attacked Libya’s defense in remoreseless fashion. However, the Mediterranean Knights were able to heroically defend their lead. Furthermore, Libya posed significant danger to the Saudi defense through its counter attacks, especially in the last ten minutes of the game. The moment of deliverance for Libya came when Ahmed Saad successfully converted a penalty kick from the spot in the 96th minute of the game to end the Saudi dreams of a late equalizer and to secure Libya’s passage to the final.
Libya is facing difficult challenges this month as it looks to successfully hold its first ever elections in more than 42 years. By this occasion, the Libyan Football Team will seek to win the tournament and bring the cup back to Libya to send a message of hope and bright future to all Libyans.