MONROVIA, Montserrado – Immediately after the end of the preliminary round of the 2016-17 Liberia National County Sports Meet, few football pundits thought a county that failed to win a single game in three matches would have become the champions.
With Nimba, Grand Cape Mount, and Maryland reaching the quarterfinals with a maximum seven points – with all three winning two games and drawing one of their three group matches – there were high expectations for any of the three becoming the champion at the end. However, it was a lucky Monsterrado team that went against all the odds to win their first ever football title in the County Meet since its establishment in 1956.
Having failed to win it in their last four finals, the overlooked county was crowned champions of the county meet following a 4-1 penalties shootout victory over one of the underdogs, Maryland.
Neither team was able to score the game winner after playing to a 1-1 draw in the full 90 minutes and extra time of play.
As expected before the match, the Antoinette Tubman Stadium was at full capacity, with spectators turning out in droves to cheer their beloved counties.
Liberia’s chief patron of sports was also in attendance. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, along with some government officials, greeted players and match officials before the game. She took the official kickoff for the grand finale.
The game was full of excitement, with both teams displaying electrifying football throughout the match. Monsterrado began the encounter with a high tempo and their regular style of maintaining possession, while a careful Maryland played defensively, relying on long balls to play a counter-attacking style of football.
The distinct tactics of both counties seemed to be working, but each team missed several scoring opportunities in the first half.
It was Monsterrado that came close to getting an early minute lead after Lewis Yarkpah failed to make use of Markey Morgan’s pass that beat Maryland’s defense. Just a minute after almost conceding an early goal, Maryland’s long ball worked for the first time in the match, with a long-range pass from Joe Dennis that Francis Williams intercepted right outside Monsterrado’s penalty area. With a defender to beat, Williams took a shot that traveled over the crossbar.
With a minute left in the first half, Monsterrado was awarded a free kick at a dangerous position and the crowd in the stadium began to shout for a goal. However, they were denied from going to the break with a lead, after Maryland’s shot stopper Larry Hne made a diving save to keep the score even at zero.
Both sides returned from the break with substitutions. Maryland introduced their goal hero, Aflah Allison, while Monsterrado brought in Musa Kebbay and Joseph Zazay, who handed them a win in their quarterfinal clash against River Gee.
Less than ten minutes after his introduction, Kebbay missed the opportunity of scoring the first goal. From within Maryland’s six-yard box, Kebbay received a ball blocked by Hne and shot wide off target.
The stadium was ablaze in the 73rd minute after Monsterrado took the lead through Kebbay, who earlier missed an open chance. He cleverly dribbled his way through Maryland’s defenders and placed the ball in the bottom right corner of Hne’s goal.
Monsterrado’s excitement was ceased just 10 minutes after taking the lead when Maryland got the equalizer through Kelvin Allison.
With six minutes to go, both teams became very careful with the tempo of the match.
Despite the poor lighting system, the match went into overtime, where penalty kicks would decide the fate of the game. There, Monsterrado became champions for the first time thanks to substitute goalkeeper Kofa Nimely’s two brilliant saves. Nimely killed Maryland’s hope by saving their first shot before repeating the same in their fourth shot.
Meanwhile, Nimba became the overall winner of the County Meet, winning three of the four categories.
Earlier in the year, the Mountaineers lifted the volleyball and basketball trophies by defeating Monsterrado in the two finals before topping them with an effortless kickball victory over rivals Margibi.
Featured photo by T. Kla Wesley, Jr.