Why Liberia May Missout On Gabon 2017 Africa Cup of Nations?

Monrovia - Liberia take on Djibouti today in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS) at 16:00GMT (4:00PM Liberian time).

South Africa-based midfielder Anthony Snothi Laffor scored a 65th goal to hand Liberia a crucial win at the Stade National El-Hadj Hassan Gouled Aptidon in Djibouti City on March 24.

Head coach James Salinsa Debbah will be confident of a home win, having secured an away win in Afcon qualifier since Isaac Tondo scored twice (first and 61st minutes) as Liberia beat Mauritius 2-0 at the Stade Anjalay on June 16, 2001 in a 2002 Afcon qualifier. It was the second time Debbah and company had broken a long run of poor results.

On October 13, 2015, Spain-based William Jebor of SD Ponferradina helped Liberia to break a 14-year record of having not won a World Cup qualifier away with a hat-trick in a 3-1 victory over Guinea Bissau in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in Bissau.

Jerbo played no part in the first leg but could be given the nod to start ahead of Patrick ‘Ronaldinho’ Wleh.  Midfielders Tonia Tisdell of Karsiyaka Karabükspor in Turkey and Melvin

George of Hantharwady United FC in Myanmar will miss out for the second time due to unexplained reasons. Liberia warmed-up for today’s match with a 2-0 win over the under-20 national team in a practice match at the ATS on Sunday.

The odds are again pointing to a home victory with Liberia given 1.04 and Djibouti given 21.00 while a draw is placed at 15.00. Following last Thursday’s victory, the Liberia Football Association (LFA) was upbeat about qualifying for next year’s finals in Gabon.

“We just won another match away. We are in pole position of qualifying for our third AFCON. Liberians from around the world were in celebratory mode yesterday.

“Thank you Andy Quamie for attending the match despite being a Match Commissioner in another difficult CAF Champions League match three days earlier in Sudan.

“We appreciate all the support from all Liberians. Keep believing. We have two crunch matches against Djibouti and Togo at home that could see us qualify. So let's make the ATS a fortress. #LONESTAR#RoadtoAFCON2017#,” the LFA wrote on its Facebook page on March 25. The air of belief surrounding qualification is also rooted in the fact that the LFA thinks Liberia are topping the group.

“Since all three teams are tied at three points (matches played between only the three teams), they are also tied at a zero goal difference (matches played between the three teams).

“Liberia and Togo have the greatest number of goals between all three teams which is two for Liberia and two for Togo but according to RULE 14.2.4, Liberia has the greatest number of away goals scored in the matches between the three teams concerned due to our one goal we scored in Togo.

“No other team has scored away in matches played between the three teams; hence, Liberia are first; Togo are second (due to their two goals in matches played between the three teams) and Tunisia are third (because they only scored one goal in matches played between the three teams),” the LFA stated.

I have since begged to differ on our hopes of qualification and believe that Liberia could be repeating the mistakes of South Africa during the 2012 Afcon qualifiers.

Sports minister Fikile Mbalula branded South Africa Football Association (Safa) a 'disgrace' by for failing to properly understand the rules, which caused the country a place in the finals.
Safa lodged a hasty formal appeal with CAF against the head-to-head system used to separate teams but Mbalula dismissed it.

"How can Bafana Bafana play for a draw and celebrate it? You can't play for a draw and be proud. The Safa leadership should be ashamed. There must be an apology to the South African people because this is a disgrace.

“An apology would have been good from the onset. It's a national disgrace. The rules are there in black and white, instead all we get are appeals," said Mbalula at a press conference on October 10, 2011.

Niger emerged shock winners of the group having finished levelled on points with South Africa and Sierra Leone. Safa officials, players and coaches thought goal difference decided who finished first in the group. Bafana Bafana players even celebrated by dancing after a 0-0 home draw with Sierra Leone believing South Africa had qualified.

Coach Pitso Mosimane admitted that he played for a draw as South Africa were held 0-0 at home to Sierra Leone on October 8, 2011 but Mbalula said the lack of knowledge of the rules was inexcusable.

"It is unfortunate we misread the rules of the tournament and played for a draw. There is no way a national team can play to get a draw. National pride means the players must go out there and die for their country. This is a serious blunder. The rules are in black and white.

"I was surprised to hear one of the (Bafana) players arguing that CAF changes the rules after games. In other countries, people resign because of such failures. This is unacceptable.

"This is a national disgrace. We are not talking here about Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates but our national team. People came here wearing suits, saying 'we are appealing' (to CAF). You can't argue with CAF. They will put you in your right place," he added.

CAF regulations elevate head-to-head records above goal difference and these were taken into account after Niger, South Africa and Sierra Leone finished with nine points in Group G.

Niger, who had never previously qualified for a Nations Cup, made history despite losing 3-0 in Egypt on October 8, 2011 thanks to article 14.1 of the 2012 Nations Cup rules, which are still being used for the 2017 Afcon qualifiers with slight amendments. Liberia is third in their group with six months behind Tunisia and Togo, who also have six points respectively.

Let's assume that Liberia beat Djibouti on Tuesday and Togo in June. That will not qualify us because the LFA is assuming or has assumed that we'll lose in Tunis to Tunisia while Togo will beat Djibouti in Lomé in the last round of matches in September. That means Tunisia will qualify on either the head to head record or goals scored.

This states that 'in case of equality of points between two or more teams after all the group matches', the greater number of points obtained in matches between the concerned teams shall be the first deciding factor.

Possible starting team: Tommy Song'o, Solomon Grimes, Gizzie Dorbor, Teah Dennis, Dirkir Glay, Theo Weeks Lewis, Anthony Laffor, Zah Krangar, Dioh Williams, Sam Johnson and William Jerbo.

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