Libya’s triumph at the just concluded African Nations Championship (CHAN), hosted by South Africa came to soccer analysts and football followers as a surprise.
The Mediterranean nation, that eventually won the championship, was not ranked among the ‘outsiders’ to perform well at the tournament. The 2014 CHAN victory was Libya’s first time to lift a continental trophy in football.
The team, guided by a Spanish national, Javier Clemente, displayed a highly tactical performance, anchored on an impregnable defence and compact midfield. Libya beat highly rated Gabon, Zimbabwe and Ghana respectively, to lift the trophy.
Soccer fans in Ebonyi, still awed by the performance, cautioned ‘big names’ in African football, and predicted of an imminent paradigm shift in the continent’s football.
Chijioke Enyi, Minority Leader of Ebonyi House of Assembly, attributed the feat to long term planning and stakeholders’ commitment.
“Libya has been in turmoil since the ouster of Muamar Gadaffi, as all sectors of its existence including sports went comatose.
“The stakeholders despite this condition, still planned for success as they realised that it was a major way of healing the wounds of the turmoil and initiating national integration,” he said.
The lawmaker also said that bookmakers did not mention Libya as a force to be reckoned with at the 2014 CHAN. “During the last CHAN for instance, the bookmakers tipped Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, among others for the title, while countries such as Libya were termed, ‘also-rans’.
“The country however exhibited a highly tactical formation at the competition, anchored on impregnable defence and compact midfield to beat the ‘powerhouses’ to lift the trophy,” he said.
He urged emerging football countries to take a cue from the Libyans, and develop their football to the level of competing favourably with more established nations.
Geroge Anizoba, Coach of Ebonyi Federation Cup defending champions, Mgbo Ambassadors, went down memory lane on how some presumed underdogs took the continent’s football by storm.
“Before 1992, Cote d’Ivoire was an underdog of African football, without any previous continental silverware, both at the junior or senior levels.
“During the 1992 AFCON in Senegal, an indigenous coach, Yeo Marshal took the continental heavyweights to the cleaners by winning the coveted trophy,” he said. According to him, the Ivorian victory has several similarities with that of the Libyans.
“Cote d’Ivoire was experiencing political upheavals like the Libyans, due to the ill health of the nation’s leader, late Felix Houphet-Boigny.
“The problem did not assume the fratricidal nature of Muammar Ghadaffi’s ouster, but its soccer authorities planned astutely to achieve the victory without distraction,” he said.
He remarked that like the Libyans, the Ivorian team was made up of many home-based players, who outclassed the legion of foreign-based professionals paraded by Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroun, among others.
“The team also adopted a similar compact pattern throughout the tournament like the Libyans, anchored on an impregnable defence and highly mobile midfield.
“Curiously, Cote d’Ivoire like the Libyans, won the cup after recording penalty shout out victories in the semi-final to the final stages against Cameroun and Ghana respectively,” he said.
Anizoba noted that currently, countries like Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Cape Verde, have also sent similar signals to the football ‘powerhouses.’
Ethiopia qualified for the 2014 World Cup qualifying play-off; while Burkina Faso also qualified for the play-off as well as runners up at the 2013 AFCON.
Cape Verde eliminated Cameroun from the 2013 AFCON, and missed the World Cup playoffs due to administrative blunder, as it fielded an ineligible player during the qualifiers.
Chief Jude Nnoli, a sports administrator, said that Libya drove home the message that foreign coaches were still relevant in the continent.
According to him, Africans should correct the impression that foreign coaches were just in the continent as gold diggers.
“When we look back, we would discover that foreign coaches have actually achieved more than their indigenous counterparts in the continent.
“Foreign coaches have won more AFCON titles than the local ones; foreign coaches also qualified African countries for the quarter final stages of the World Cup on three occasions.
“The Russian tactician Valery Niponimiachy took Cameroun to the quarter finals of ‘Italia 90,’ late Bruno Metsu achieved the feat at ‘Japan/ Korea 2002’ with Senegal, and Miroslav Rajevac did it with Ghana at ‘South Africa 2010’,” he said.
He said that there should not be blanket rejection of foreign coaches. “Javier Clemente, the Spaniard who guided Libya to victory took over the team, two and half months ago, but still impacted an impeccable tactical discipline to ensure success.
“This is a coach who once handled the Spanish national team and top clubs in Spain, it would be wrong to term him a journeyman in Africa. “Most top countries in the continent now employ local coaches so the foreign coaches now tutor smaller countries to prove the point that they are still relevant,” he said.
Nnoli advised countries in Africa to employ foreign coaches with requisite knowledge and experience of the game, to develop their football.
“These coaches would expose the players to the modern techniques and facilities and also offer the needed tutorials to indigenous coaches to enhance their capabilities,” he said.
The lessons of Libya’s performance at the 2014 CHAN are glaring; it is a good development for the development of African football.
Chukwuemeka Opara writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)