The team with the best result from the two games will join 13 winning teams from the preliminaries to progress to the second round
Following terrorizing attacks by Sierra Leonean football fans against the visiting Liberian National football team, the Lone Star, on Saturday, September 7, at the Siaka Stevens Stadium in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the world football body FIFA has ordered the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) to submit a signed statement guaranteeing the safety of the Liberian team in order for the match to be played.
On Saturday afternoon, the chartered bus carrying the Lone Star fell into an ambush of stone throwing Sierra Leoneans on the main pitch inside stadium in Freetown. The team had been scheduled for an afternoon of private practice at the stadium ahead of today’s match.
The attack, on the Liberian players, which was captured live on social media, showed the players locked up in the bus, unable to embark for fear of injury or their lives.
Joe Nagbe, senior advisor to the Liberian Minister of Sports, reported in a Facebook live video that “the team is under attack. It is unbelievable… this has not happened here before… we came to the the Siaka Stevens sports pitch to practice and practice has not started yet, and we are being held hostage. We are under attack. We are calling on the Liberian government to intervene into what his happening. FIFA has to do something about this. The president of the SLFA is here and there is no control.”
According to Lone Star captain, Sam Johnson, upon their arrival at the Lungi International Airport in Freetown, the Liberian team was held up “for over four hours.”
SLFA president Isha Johasen seen struggling to take control fo the situation during the attack on the Liberian National Team.
The Facebook live video shows the football pitch scattered with Liberian team members on one end and the team’s bus on the other end. Also on the scene are few Sierra Leone armed law enforcement. However, they are not a barrier between the Liberian team and the attackers. At one point two men, identified by Johnson as part of the attack, make their way to the Liberian team and are pointed out and confronted by the team. A Liberian team member identifies both, recalling their threats “to kill” Liberian players.
The Sierra Leonean Football Association president, Isha Johasen, is seen in the video struggling unsuccessfully to gain control of the situation.
The match, scheduled for 4:30pm today, follows the first leg of the 2022 World Cup qualifier preliminaries between the two two countries, held on September 4, in which the Lone Star emerged with a 3-1 victory a the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, Liberia.
At the end of that match, Liberian fans swarmed the patch to celebrate the win that put them in a better position ahead of the return leg. The visiting Sierra Leonean team was conveyed to their hotel under full police escort, even through the post-match traffic on the Tubman Boulevard corridor. However, the action by the overjoyed Liberian fans caught the attention of FIFA officials, who chided the Liberia Football Association and threatened to fine the LFA over crowd control issues.
According to a source on the Liberian delegation to Freetown, it is unclear whether the attack on the Liberian team in Freetown is in response to FIFA’s chastisement of the LFA, “or just plain poor sportsmanship”.
A statement from the SLFA, issued on the evening of September 7, distances itself from what it called “allegations of threats against the Liberian National Team”.
“Following reports of threats and intimidation by some Sierra Leone football supporters toward the Liberian National Team during this afternoon’s training ahead of tomorrow’s FIFA pre-qualifiers, the Sierra Leone Football Association unequivocally dissociates itself from any form of violence or intimidation in football,” the statement, signed by the SLFA Media and Marketing Department, said.
Isha Johasen, president, SLFA has apologized “to the Liberia Football Association and the People of Liberia for any anxiety and safety concerns today’s incident may have caused.”
“The isolated event which is making the rounds in social media is an unfortunate reflection of one of the ills in football that the SLFA strongly advocates against.
“The President and Executive of the SLFA have visited the National Team at their premise to give assurances of their safety and would like to use this platform to apologize to the Liberia Football Association and the People of Liberia for any anxiety and safety concerns today’s incident may have caused.
“The SLFA wishes success and a good match in the spirit of good football in tomorrow’s return leg of the FIFA World Cup pre-qualifiers,” the SLFA statement concluded.
However, a source said even FIFA was not convinced and demanded that SLFA guarantee the safety of the Liberia National Team, or else the match would be called off. It is unclear what FIFA’s next course of action against the SLFA will be.