In response to Libya’s worsening security situation, the national team are having to play their matches on foreign soil, far away from their supporters. Nevertheless, that kind of adversity has not stopped the Libyans from achieving a measure of success since the appointment of experienced Spanish coach Javier Clemente.
Clemente steered the team to victory at the 2014 CAF African Nations Championship, where his charges beat Ghana on penalties to win the title, and has since steered them into the final round of the African qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
Speaking to FIFA.com, Clemente discussed the difficulties of hosting matches in a foreign land: “Things have been made all the harder for us because we have to play our home matches behind closed doors in another country. That makes our job a lot more difficult, though we’ve dealt with it pretty well. When the day comes when we can play in Libya again, then it should be easier for us to get results.”
In their bid to reach Russia 2018, the Libyans will take on Tunisia, Congo DR and Guinea in what looks to be an evenly matched Group A. Sharing his views on it, Clemente said: “There are some good teams in there and only the section winners will qualify for the World Cup. What I can say, though, is that Libya are capable of achieving something. I think that if we put the work in and take the time to prepare for games, then we’ll have a chance. It’s not a big chance, but I think we could top the group.”
Seasoned watchers of African football are tipping Tunisia to win the pool, but are reluctant to rule out Congo DR, semi-finalists at last year’s African finals. Giving his opinion, the Spanish coach said: “I haven’t really looked at them closely yet. I know the Tunisians well because we played them in the Africa Cup of Nations, winning one match and losing the other. They’re a quality side. Congo are a very strong team too, and then there’s Guinea, who I don’t know that well. Congo and Guinea have got a few players in the European leagues though.”
Europe’s finishing schools
Some 90 per cent of the players selected by the five sides that represented Africa at both South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014 – Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon – played their club football in Europe, a revealing statistic that prompted Clemente to say: “The standard in African championships isn’t as high and the pace of the game is slower too. The African players based in Europe are often fast and strong, and teams with those kinds of players are harder to beat, which is why I don’t think our group is as tight as others. Morocco, for example, are one team who could go and have a good World Cup.”
Asked to pick out his favourites for the other groups, Clemente said: “I haven't taken a look at the other sections and I don't know anything about them. I’ll have to take a look, though I have to say I’m not that interested in the other sections. What I’m interested in is Libya’s group. I’ve started to do my research on Congo DR, Guinea and Tunisia. That’s what my objective is. If you’ve got Morocco and Algeria in the same group, then they’re both good sides, though one of them has to get knocked out. If you ask me, Algeria’s main rival in their group is Nigeria.
“The biggest challenge to Morocco is going to come from Côte d’Ivoire. Mali have got some good players too, though we’ll just have to see how they play,” he added, giving his view on another of the sections in the African Zone.
He added: “We’ll have to see what the pitches are like. Sometimes we have to play on very poorly prepared pitches, where the grass is long, or on artificial turf. You can never tell what’s going to happen when African teams go on their travels either."
Signing off with a look at groups D and E, he said: “The Egyptians are very strong and the Ghanaians too. They’re the favourites in their section. As for Senegal, they’ll have to go to Burkina Faso, where the conditions might be tricky. The pitch might be very grassy and bumpy, which could make things difficult. When you get a pitch like that it stops the big teams from playing their game.”