Libya battle the odds in fight for Nations qualification

Reuters, Friday 7 Oct 2011

Libya’s players will have more than football on their minds when they meet Zambia in a vital African Nations Cup finals qualifier on Saturday

Libya football team
Libya football team players

As fighting rages in Libya, with government forces trying to take Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, Marco Paqueta, coach of the Libyan football team, says his players had all the motivation they would ever need.

“In their minds they are not only playing for football success but for a new government and a new country,” the Brazilian said on Friday.

“Zambia are a big side with a lot more experience but I think we have much more motivation, especially now my players can see the target.”

Paqueta, who has not been paid for the last six months, almost since the start of the civil war in Libya, will field a team short of match practice and with just a 10-day training camp in Tunisia behind them.

Zambia lead Libya by a point in their group, and depending on other results on the final weekend a draw in Chingola might be good enough to ensure Libya qualify as one of the two best runners-up.

The majority of their squad are domestic based, where there has been no league football since March, while six others come from clubs in neighbouring Tunisia where the league has been in hiatus since June. Libya’s only European-based player is in Portugal.

“It will be difficult without regular match time but I have made a programme for each player to follow while they have had no games. I know the qualities of each player and I’ve prepared tactics to play against a team like Zambia,” he added.

Just over a month ago Libya were not even sure of completing their programme in the qualifiers but fielded a team to play behind closed doors in neutral Cairo against Mozambique and won their penultimate group game to keep themselves in contention.

Paqueta bought his own ticket to fly from Rio de Janeiro, were he has been since the fighting started in February, to join up with the team just two days before that match and saw them score a surprise 1-0 win.

They played for the first time in the colours of the new Libyan government, using mainly players from Benghazi in the east where the uprising against Gaddafi started.

Paqueta, who signed a four-year contract last year when the Gaddafi family was firmly in charge of the country’s football association, said many current players had previously been sidelined from the national side but he had now chosen a side mixed with talent from across the country.

“There were players who asked me why I have chosen some of the others from Tripoli but I have come here to work for the whole of Libya,” he said. “I don’t care about who comes from where, as long as they want to win for the country.

“In Brazil everyone said I was crazy to try and stay in this job, but I want to go on and try and finish the task. I don’t want to just leave the players, I have a belief in the players, I’m a friend to them and I feel they also want to play for me,” he told Reuters.

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