A 60-hour journey from their conflict-torn homeland did not end happily for Libya as they lost 4-2 to South Africa today in a 2012 London Olympics qualifier. But the outcome could have been worse for the North Africans as they trailed by four goals midway through the second half at Sinaba Stadium in Daveyton township 50 kilometres east of Johannesburg.
An own goal conceded under no pressure and a late Sami al-Ghulla goal left the Libyans with some hope ahead of the second round return match over the weekend of 8-10 April at a venue to be announced. With the ongoing conflict in the state it could mean a switch to Mali capital Bamako where the Libyan senior team will play a 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against the Comoros Islands tomorrow.
Al-Ittihad will also use Bamako next weekend for an CAF African Champions League second round fixture against JC Abidjan of Côte D'Ivoire in a tie reduced to a single match for security reasons.
Libya coach Branko Smiljanic his 16-man squad endured a two-and-a-half-day journey from Tripoli to Johannesburg by road and air via Tunisia and Europe. "South Africa have a very good team but the late goals offer us a slight chance of overtaking them when we meet again. Our concentration levels were very poor in the early stages," admitted the Serb.
"Libyan league football has been suspended and this obviously had a big effect on our performance. South Africa made us run a lot and that tired my players who were not at peak fitness."
Rival coach Ephraim 'Shakes' Mashaba, who led South Africa to their only Olympics appearance 11 years ago, was furious with his team for relaxing after building a commanding advantage in cool, overcast conditions.
"We should have scored eight goals against this team. We lacked intelligence when leading by four goals and our attitude was bad. Scoring four goals went to our heads and now we face a difficult task," he conceded.
The North Africans need to win the second leg 2-0 or 3-1 to qualify on the away-goal rule while a 4-2 victory would force the tie to a penalty shootout.
Bongani Ndulula, Themba Zwane, Phumelele Bhengu and Mandla Masango scored for South Africa before a Ramahlwe Mphahlele own goal and a close-range al-Ghulla shot brought Libya back into contention for a last-16 place.