Libya's sights on 2014
© AFP

Though mightily close to winning the 1982 CAF African Cup of nations on home soil, when they were beaten 7-6 on penalties by Ghana in the final, Libya have not come near to matching that achievement since.

Indeed, Libya have been to just one edition of the African showpiece since that narrow defeat. That absence from African football's top table was in evidence at the 2006 finals in neighbouring Egypt, with the Libyans making the short trip home after finishing bottom of Group A.

However, things have begun to look up for the country as a footballing force after they were designated as hosts for the 2014 edition of the continental championship. This month, the received a further boost with an impressive 14-place rise to number 69 in the FIFA Coca-Cola World Ranking, a jump that, though largely down to the devaluation of previous negative results, is encouraging nonetheless. They now lie just eight spots behind their best-ever ranking of 61, which they achieved in November 2004, and are now the 16th-highest ranked African team (up from 20th).

And though already eliminated from Africa Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the Libyans have taken the opportunity to focus on building a side able to compete with the continent's finest in five years' time.

Performances were markedly improved following the appointment of veteran coach Faouzi Benzarti, and Libya were only edged out on goal difference on the final matchday of the first round of African Zone qualifying. Unfortunately, the team were delivered a heavy blow shortly afterwards when Benzarti was enticed back to his native Tunisia to take the helm at champions Esperance.

A new supremo has yet to be named but his mandate is clear: qualification for the 2012 African Cup of Nations to be held in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The new man in charge will also be expected to take steps towards ensuring Libya can and will challenge for the title as hosts in 2014.

On the domestic front, the league title eventually went to heavyweights Al Ittihad, but only after a tense tussle with rivals Al Ahli Benghazi and Al Ahli Tripoli, who finished second and third respectively. It is these three clubs which provide the bulk of the players in the Libyan national squad, though there are also a number of expatriates plying their trade at clubs in the Middle East.

In recent years, Libya outfit have also proved they can be force on the continental stage, particularly in 2007. Al Ittihad went all the way to the last four of that year's CAF African Champions League where they were beaten 1-0 on aggregate by Egyptian superpowers Al Ahly, six-time winners of the prestigious competition.