MONROVIA, Montserrado – After almost six weeks, the National County Sports Meet has reached its final stage with Maryland scheduled to play Monsterrado on Sunday, Jan. 15 at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium.
Written off as the underdog before the start of the tournament, Maryland has beaten the odds as they progress to the closing match.
The southeasterners reached the final of the competition after ending Nimba’s hope of winning their fifth title with a hard fought 2-0 win in the semifinals.
Despite having some of the tournament’s high profile players, Nimba was unable to reach the final of the County Meet after failing to capitalize on scoring chances in the early minutes of the game.
Nimba began the game on a very promising note, demonstrating fine passing and creating early scoring chances. They missed out on taking the lead in the 13th minute after their top striker Mark Yallah barely missed a header.
Thirty minutes into the first half, Maryland’s forward Daniel Toe missed a one-on-one opportunity. Despite Maryland’s threats and stubborn defending tactics, Nimba continued their dominance of the match but failed to score a goal to keep their championship hopes alive.
After several missed opportunities by Nimba, it was Maryland that opened the scoring in the stoppage time of the first half through Toe, who collected a pass from Patrick Williams to beat Nimba’s goalkeeper, Prince Mawolo.
Toe’s lone goal separated the two sides as Nimba went to first half break disappointed.
Nimba, however, returned determined to get the equalizer as they continued to dominate the encounter. Just like the first half, they began the second part of the match with missed opportunities in front of the goal, with Mark Yallah giving his worst performance in the competition.
Yallah, who was the leading goal scorer of the County Meet with seven goals, was denied the chance of leveling the score just 10 minutes after the break by Maryland’s shot stopper, Nathaniel Hne, who had a beautiful performance throughout the match.
Hne denied Yallah’s long-range effort by knocking the ball over the crossbar. Eight minutes later, he again kept the score at 1-0 with a diving save to deny Irvin Gbotoe a goal.
With Nimba having much of the possession in the closing stages, there were still hopes of leveling the score before the final whistle.
As the match entered its final minutes, Maryland fans stood on their feet, eagerly awaiting the sound of the final whistle from center referee George Rogers. Their noise got even louder after Maryland doubled its lead with seven minutes to play. The second goal of the match came from Aflah Allison.
Nimba failed to score through the end of the game, and they missed out on reaching the final.
Maryland will face last year’s runner-up, Monsterrado, which reached the final after defeating Margibi 5-3 in penalty shootouts after a scoreless 90 minutes.
Unlike in last year’s final where Monsterrado lost to Grand Bassa in a shootout, they produced an excellent performance this year. They were able to score on all of their kicks, while Margibi missed the chance after seeing their first penalty stopped by substitute goalkeeper, Kofa Nimely.
Monsterrado will be hoping to win this year’s competition after losing three times in the finals. They missed out their first chance in 1969 and lost to Bassa in the 2013 edition. Their most recent defeat was 4-1 in a penalty shootout loss to Grand Bassa last year.
Meanwhile, the two losers from the semifinals will play each other in the third-place match on Thursday, Jan. 13. This is the second time that Nimba and Grand Bassa will be meeting this year.
Featured photo by T. Kla Wesley