Feature: How Javier Clemente turned Libya into continental giants after CHAN success

A man celebrates as he watches the African Nations Championship final soccer match between Libya and Ghana at a cafe in Benghazi

A man celebrates as he watches the African Nations Championship final soccer match between Libya and Ghana at a cafe in Benghazi

Libya’s penalty kings, coached by former Spain boss Javier Clemente, won 4-3 in sudden death in the shootout after it was 0-0 through 90 minutes and extra time at Cape Town Stadium. Libya also won penalty shootouts in the quarter-finals and semi-finals in South Africa.

The African Nations Championship is the continent’s lower-level tournament for home-based players, but that mattered little for the Libyans, whose best football achievement was watched by FIFA President Sepp Blatter at the former World Cup stadium. Blatter handed out the medals to the Libyan players.

Goalkeeper Mohamed Abdaula saved the first two Ghanaian penalties to help the North Africans clinch victory in a tournament they were initially meant to host but had to give up to South Africa because of unrest at home.

Ghana’s penalty pain continued having been knocked out in shootouts in the semifinals at last year’s African Cup and the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup.

Libya’s best result before Saturday’s triumph was reaching the final of the main African Cup on home soil in 1982, when it lost to Ghana on penalties.

It helped Libya atone for the loss in the final of AFCON 1982 Tripoli 32 years against Saturday’s opponents.

At the time, after a draw in 120 minutes of football, Ghana had won the title 7-6 on penalties.

Libya handed over hosting rights for this tournament and last year’s full continental championship following the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and because of the ongoing violence.

But under Clemente, Libya’s footballers drew with Ghana in the group stage and beat Gabon and Zimbabwe in shootouts in the knockouts to progress to the deciding game.

Then Ahmed El Trbi scored the sixth penalty for Libya before Joshua Tijani missed his for Ghana to spark celebrations from the Mediterranean Knights.

Libya played a defensive tournament, got themselves organised and ended up becoming champions. It was so evident that new coach Javier Clemente had a great hand into their success.

It was a lively, very tactical and competitive final match from first whistle with both sides eager to open the scoring but clear-cut scoring opportunities were few and far between. Then slowly but surely the game opened up more and the crowd bayed for more of the entertaining stuff.

There was a slight delay almost in disbelief before the Libyan players could celebrate a meaningful feel-good moment for their long-troubled nation.

The crowning of Libya as African Nations Champions by beating Ghana on the first occasion the country has managed to win a major trophy in the international arena, boosts Libya’s hopes in the sport, but not only, at a time when it is most needed so close to the third anniversary of the February 17, 2011 Revolution and with the country still trying to find its feet in the world.

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