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Mali the Favorites, But—- – posted by

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BY:Wleh Bedell

With Liberia’s general elections set for Tuesday, October 11, where the country is relatively divided politically, Liberians will once more come together in one spirit under the banner of the flag, dressed in their red, white and blue to cheer on the nation’s pride and joy the Lone Star in what should be on paper an academic contest judging from them having no hope to make the Equatorial Guinea-Gabon party as they go against a star studded Eagles of Mali who need a win or could sail through with a draw depending on the result of the other group contest involving hosts Cape Verde and the visiting Warriors of Zimbabwe.

While the game at the SKD this Saturday will be an academic one for the Lone Star as they lie at the bottom of the four teams group despite parading two expatriate tacticians in Bertalan Bicskei (deceased) and one lowly rated Roberto Landi, the Lone Star still has pride to play for and could set something special if they do win as they will then be winning more than one match in the qualifier since the 2002 qualifiers where the legendary George Weah and co. stunned the bookmakers by making in-roads in qualifying for just their second African Nations Cup qualifier and led the way throughout the World Cup qualifier only to surrender the top spot to a delirious Super Eagles of Nigeria after astonishingly bowing to a deplete Ghanaian side at the SKD. Also, the unbeaten home record is at stake as the Lone Star have never tasted defeat since their 1-2 loss to the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon on June 3, 2007, in the 2008 African Nations Cup qualifier. With the team unbeaten at home in the entire 2010 qualifiers, the Lone Star faithful will be itching to see such record stay on course as far as stopping the opposition from celebrating on home soil is concerned.

But, while the Lone Star may be parading a relatively depleted side since the team has over the years mainly depended on professional players who have made a chunk of the players featuring for the team, the news that only four professionals in Russian side CSKA Moscow Sekou Jabateh Oliseh who is fresh from champions league football against Inter Milan, Ansu Toure from Swiss Second tier side Locarno as well as the French based Al-Husein Keita of US Senart-Moisy and Swedish based Dioh Williams of BK Hacken certainly makes the Malians the firm favorites as their French Coach Alain Giresse has assembled a star packed squad, some of whom include European Champions Barcelona industrious and simple passing midfielder Saydou Keita, French outfit Metz shot stopper Oumar Sissoko, deadly finisher Modibo Maiga of Ligue 1 outfit Sochaeux and Adama Coulibaly and Cherick Tidiane Diabate of AJ Auxerre ansd Bordeaux respectively.

On paper, the Malians are the firm favorites as they have the edge in terms of player by player comparison, current form, pedigree as well as motivation as they find themselves just 90 minutes away to the African Nations Cup finals which will be their seventh in all with their first been the 1972 where they surprised many by ending as runners-up. Though they can be regarded as poor travelers currently after losing away to Cape Verde and Zimbabwe 0-1 and 1-2 respectively in the ongoing qualifiers, as far as the records are concerned the Eagles may have something to be hopeful of as they in their first visit to Liberia went away with a 1-0 win at the SKD in September 1988 which was during the preliminary of the 1990 African Nations Cup. During that match, the Lone Star had one Varney Greene then of St.Joseph Warriors as a debutant. The second leg was a trashing as the Malians got the better of the visiting Lone Star side 3-1 with Jonathan ‘Boye Charles’ Sogbie getting the consolation for the red, white and blue outfit.

The Lone Star too will have something to hope for as far as beating Mali is concerned as they pinned them 1-0 on June 6, 2004, courtesy of a 72nd minute strike from then Cypriot based forward Alvin ‘Power’ Kieh who came from the bench during the 2006 African Nations Cup qualifier match.

While I would not want to dwell on the speculative and damaging news that the game on Saturday is to be compromised or sold to give the Malians the license to qualify since I may not have the evidence or facts to authenticate such assertion, it would however be unfair to show some disrespect to the highly experienced Malians to think that if the Lone Star do loose then the game was bought. On a day it is said, anyone can be beaten and that the beauty of the game is its unpredictability.

 I would not be surprised if the Malians do pull a win, but would be surprised and even hugely disappointed if the Lone Star fails to show character, commitment, hunger and urge in the full ninety minutes. I cannot however rule out the Lone Star causing an upset despite the relatively sparking-less team that should struggle defensively as they could have what it takes to just stun the form book in at least pulling a draw at the end of the fray.

But, whatever the situation, pundits will agree that the Malians are the favorites but they don’t need to go to sleep and think they have it as the Lone Star is in with something special in this tricky West African derby. No interest in the news of match been sold, and in fact it could further motivate the Lone Star to play above themselves as a means of disproving such negative claim. Let me add to urge everyone to turn up in their red, white and blue to lift the team as the match is also a prelude or lesson to be learned for the 2014 preliminary test away to Mauritius.

Finally, whatever the outcome of the match, it will not be the end of the world from a Lone Star perspective. Let us all remember that the Lone Star is our pride and joy and it is forever.

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