By KABS KANU
All the arguments about which of the two– Leone Stars and Lone Star — were the better team could have been settled decisively at the Siaka Stevens Stadium last Sunday during the last minute of stoppage time when Sierra Leone won a penalty kick which could have made the score 2-0 and eliminated Liberia on away goal advantage after the Liberians won the first leg 3-1 in Monrovia last Wednesday.
But woe alas. As the nation held its breath, the jinx haunted Sierra Leone again. Skipper Umaru Zingalay Bangura opted to take the kick and did his best to break the hearts of millions of Sierra Leoneans world wide when he shot low to his right and forced the Liberian goalkeeper Ashley Williams to save the ball , thereby preventing Liberia from certain elimination and sending them into the group stage of the 2022 World Cup qualifying series.
THE HEARTBREAKING MOMENT FOR SIERRA LEONE WHEN ZINGALEY MISSED THE PENALTY
Given the element of luck , which pervades soccer and the fact that even the best players in the world Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have missed crucial penalty kicks for nation and clubs before, Zingaley and the Leone Stars may be forgiven but it was a golden opportunity to miss and this is not the first time Sierra Leone has been denied victory by a penalty disaster . In the 1983 Zone 2 Cup final against Senegal in Freetown, Joseph Toby missed the vital last penalty kick to deny the nation its first international glory .
ZINGALEY-THE MAN WHO MISSED THE PENALTY
It was such a huge disappointment once again for Sierra Leone and some angry fans vented their anger on their captain Zingaley , by attacking his house and pelting it with stones, destroying doors and windows. Many of them went on social media to vent their anger further by insulting and even threatening the captain.
But Sierra Leoneans need not take it out too hard on their players because over the two legs in Monrovia and Freetown, Leone Stars did play well and give a good account of themselves and had it not been for the two penalties they conceded in Liberia, that horrible last minute blunder by defender Ibrahim Dumbuya and goalkeeper Solomon Morris and then this penalty miss on Sunday, could have deservingly eliminated the Liberians. They demonstrated that the Lone Star was not the better team after all as claimed by a journalist across the border and that there are hopes for the country in the African Nations Cup qualifying series.
However, hats off to the Liberians too for winning the tie on 3-2 aggregate. They too impressed by putting up a dogged performance at home and away and making less mistakes than the bungling Leone Stars. Liberia should be commended also for being the more compact team offensively and defensively, though Leone Stars enjoyed ball possession better , and for taking their chances at home. It is on such platforms that soccer victories are built. In soccer, you have to take your chances. Lone Stars did and got the reward for it.
Sunday’s encounter was a thriller , but it was not to be Sierra Leone’s day. They failed to snatch the lead in the first half with a sensational scissor kick by professional player Kei Kamara which would have gone down in folklore, but it was not meant to be for Sierra Leone as Liberian defender Alvin Maccornel made a dramatic goal line save.
Liberia too had a great chance to score, but goalkeeper Solomon Morris blocked the shot from Liberia’s big striker , Sam Johnson.
Goalkeeper Williams again made a grand save from Kei Kamara who thought his header was going into the net . The goalkeeper remained a constant foil to the Leone Stars.
The Liberian defence was impregnable and thwarted the Leone Stars many times.
The first half ended 0-0 but Sierra Leone took the lead in the 55th minute through their brightest star, Kei Kamara who overran defender Teah Dennis and then beat onrushing goalkeeper Williams, sending a brilliant drive nestling in the net.
One goal up and needing another to eliminate the Liberians, Leone Stars continued raiding the Liberian defence but the visitors stood firm.
Sierra Leone’s seeming moment of glory came in the 94th minute when they were awarded a penalty kick which would have put Liberia out of the World Cup but it was not meant to be. Captain Umaru Zingaley Bangura failed woefully yp put the ball past the Liberian goalkeeper and sent the whole nation into mourning.