Celebration Rocks Banjul
The Gambian U-20 National Team was not counted among the favorites, but at the end of the WAFU Zone ‘A’ Championship (April 24-May 6) it was the Gambians that laughed last.
They defeated Liberia’s U-20 Junior Lone Star 2-1 in a match that saw expectation and hope for victory, and then finally tears on the other hand and joy and celebration on the other, especially in Banjul, The Gambia.
Gambia’s victory could only be described as a surprise because from the beginning of their campaign against Guinea on April 25; against Senegal on April 27 and then against Mali on April 29 they were so low keyed that their little results and goalless draws did not draw any attention to the unseen challenge they posed to the championship title.
It was only when they eliminated La Cote d’Ivoire on penalties in the semi-finals that serious attention was given to them, but by then the tournament was almost over.
So it occurred that at the end of a grueling 90 minutes in the final, thousands of Liberian fans could only take consolation in tears because of the loss and pain that accompanied the match, especially after many chances were wasted and Junior Lonestar players could not convert any into goals.
Junior Lone Star’s players for the match were goalkeeper Ashley Williams, G. Kouyateh, D. Paye, Jeremy Saygbe, Benjamin Doe, Sekou Sherif, Allen N’Jie, John Saysay, Sam Jackson, Musa Kebay, and Edward Ledlum.
Though Junior Lone Star’s strikers showed great ambition, they became their own enemies because of over-anxiety. There was one such occasion when immediately following the kick-off the Gambians lost the ball to Liberian striker Musa Kebay, who after receiving a clear pass and with only the Gambian goalkeeper to beat, shot wide.
This was in the first minute. Interestingly, the Gambians showed him how to do it when in a counter-offensive they secured their first goal to the surprise of the anxious home fans. Many of them could not believe what they were seeing!
The game proceeded thus, with the Gambians on top and the Liberians struggling to get even. The situation would last for the rest of the first half of 45 minutes. The referee added three minutes, due to infringements and other stoppages.
Junior Lone Star returned for the second session and in the first minute, evened the score; the stadium went wild. But after the goal, there were times the Liberian players did not have control over their game.
Playing their usual game, the Gambians fought back and being apparently possessed with a mentality to win, pushed the Liberians on the defense.
Though the Liberians had secured their equalizer from a corner-kick, they had somehow lost their stamp of authority over the match and against the run of play. The Gambians came on top to secure their second goal and increase the frustration of Liberian soccer fans.
Junior Lone Star’s goalkeeper Williams at one point was limping back and forth, following a body-crash with a Gambian striker when he ventured to put a ball under control. And because he did not request to be replaced, he was allowed to remain in the post.
As the minutes ticked away and the Gambians pushed their men up front, it was clear that Liberia would need a miracle to make a difference. Meanwhile, several frustrated soccer fans were calling on Jesus Christ to come and help. “Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus,” a young woman shouted behind me when the Gambians surged in attack towards the Junior Lone Star’s side of the field.
Liberia’s efforts to get the equalizer could not materialize till the referee sounded his whistle to end the game.The Gambians had won the match 2-1 and are the new WAFU Champions!
Before the final encounter, Mali had won 3rd Place with a 1-0 victory over La Cote d’Ivoire in a match that showed more strength than creative talent. The Malians scored their winner through midfielder Ousmane Diakite.
It was a week of youth football that exposed the young talents to what they expect to encounter in future tournaments involving their countries. For Liberia, it has shown to sports officials the value of early preparation, with a commitment to provide all that is needed during arrangement for a tournament.