Ahead of next month (September) Liberia, Nigeria game in the 2022 World Cup qualifier for the Qatar showpiece, Freedom News reflects you on how the Famous George Weah eleven nearly took Nigeria’s birth to booked qualified Lonestar to their first-ever World Cup finals.
During the qualifying campaign for the Japan/ South Korea 2002 World Cup finals, Lonestar under its famous reign of Weah’s eleven came close to going through a tough group that had Ghana, Nigeria’s Super Eagle, Sierra Leone, and Sudan.
After narrowly missing out on the 1990 World Cup at the expense of Egypt, 2002 missed opportunity for the Lonestar was like a real punch in the eyes of a blind man.
Both disappointing endings to promising qualifying campaigns may have been 12 years apart, but they are still on the minds of sports lovers in Liberia.
For a country not used to finding itself in such promising situations often, the two absences Liberia have gone down as massive opportunities missed to make their debut at the sport’s greatest showpiece on planet earth.
During the Italy 1990 World Cup qualifiers, the Lone Stars of Liberia lost out at Egypt’s expense in 1989, while they failed to get the better of Nigeria at the end of the Weah’s Eleven.
At the end of the 2002 qualifiers, Liberia’s talisman (George Weah) scored what he hoped will be an important goal in the final game of Group B at Sierra Leone in 2001, but Nigeria 3-0 success over neighboring Ghana threw the hope of Lonestar away with the final standings of the qualifying campaign had the Nigeria on16 points as group leader while Liberia was had 15 points, just one short of the group leaders.
Liberia started her campaign with a 2-0 defeat in opening a group fixture to Sudan. However, Liberia fired herself back to four straight wins and that excellent running took them top of the standings after matchday five.
That four-game run included successive wins over Nigeria and the Black Stars, before sealing it with an impressive 2-0 win against the Sudan team that got the better of them in the opening round of games.
After five games, Weah’s Eleven led the Group B table with 12 points. The Super Eagle was with just seven points and they were trailing group leaders Liberia by five points while the Black Star of Ghana had five points in their matches and the Sudanese, on nine points, were joint-surprise packages alongside the group leaders, Liberia but a 2-0 win over Sudan separated them with Lonestar on top with 12 points.
With three games to play, Liberia’s tails were up. Admittedly, they still had to go through two games against Nigeria and Ghana without defeat but still, there was reason to retain the top spot.
They held a three-point lead over Sudan, with a healthy goal difference to boot, while they’d already stunned Ghana 3-1 in Accra in round three. So, theoretically, all the Lone Stars had to do was avoid a heavy defeat at the hands of the Eagles, repeat the trick against Ghana, and pick up a win over bottom Sierra Leone.
On the other hand, Nigeria with failure staring the 2002 qualifier, turned the tie with a 2-0 win over Liberia in Nigeria to close the gap to two points in the hope that Liberia will cave..and Lonestar did.
On matchday-7, Ghana defeated the group leaders, Lonestar 2-1 at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex (SKD) to pick up their first away win of the qualifying campaign, ending the Lone Stars’ three-game winning streak on home turf in succession.
While Nigeria who played later in the day, whipped Sudan 4-0 away from home to overtake the table from surprise leader, Liberia.
Going into the final matchday, the table had changed: Nigeria (13), Liberia (12), and Ghana (11) were the top three. Sudan from Northeast Africa had nine points, so qualification was already out of reach.
The 1995 World and European Player of the Year, George Weah netted as the Lone Stars defeated the host Sierra Leone 1-0 in Freetown and they were hoping that Ghana was going to do them a favor at least getting a point against Nigeria in Port-Harcourt.
Nigeria, though, was in no mood to show their rivals mercy: they scored three first-half goals at the Liberation Stadium to booked their spot in the 2002 World Cup finals.
Now, with the 2022 World Cup campaign just a few weeks away, Liberia under Englishman Peter Butler has kickoff training ahead of their Group C opener with Nigeria in Lagos.
The national team has been drawn in Group C along Africa’s powerhouse Nigeria, Central Africa Republic, and Cape Verde Island.