When the final whistle sounded on their 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Tunisia last Friday, Libya’s players fell to the ground in despair. Though the Mediterranean Knights dominated the first 45 minutes, it was the visitors who found the back of the net to take their points haul in Group A of the African qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ to a maximum six points from two games.
“The players are young but they gave their all,” said the new man at the helm. “Libya have got some technically gifted players. They just need to work on tactics and the physical side of the game. We played really well in the first half and if we’d managed to cut out the mistakes and had a little luck, then we would have won the game. In the end, though, the three points went to Tunisia.”
He added: “I took charge of the team a week before the match. We had a short training camp in Algeria to try and get the squad on the right track. We called up six new players and tried to get them to gel, but it didn’t go as well as we’d hoped.”
Held in Algeria on account of the strife that has afflicted Libya for several years now, the match could be summed up as a moral victory for the Mediterranean Knights, who are not having things easy at the moment, with the country’s domestic problems also causing it to hand over the organisation of the upcoming 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations to Gabon.
Damja knows only too well how much of an impact the turmoil is having on his team: “If we’d played the match in Tripoli in front of 70,000 fans, everything would have been different and we would definitely have won. Libya has to play all its home games abroad at the moment, and that’s having an effect on results. We have fans in Algeria, but if we could play at home it would make us stronger in the qualifiers.
“The Libyan league has major security issues, which stops the players from achieving their potential and also affects their fitness and the general level of the team. But things are getting better at home and life is gradually getting back to normal. We hope that’s going to have a positive effect on the national team in the future.”
Hope springs eternal
Libya are refusing to give up on their Russia 2018 dreams, and Damja said he believed they can still qualify in spite of their pointless start: “We’re going to go for it. We’re going to try and win the two games against Guinea and pick up some experience. There are still 12 points to play for and anything is possible in football.”
What is for sure is that Libya will not be under any pressure in their four remaining matches. With nothing to lose, they will have an advantage over Tunisia and Congo DR, while their new coach is confident that a bright future awaits the team: “Our chances of reaching the World Cup are slim after those two defeats, and we’re going to try and prepare for the future by building a solid team. The next few matches will give us a chance to learn and progress. Libya have some very gifted young players. We have to make sure they develop so they can reach international level.”
Anyone who saw how well the Mediterranean Knights performed against Tunisia knows they are right to be confident about the future. Ending the chat on a suitably optimistic note, Damja said: “We have quite a few players aged between 19 and 21, which is what gives us belief. The future of the national team is in the hands of these young players. We’ll be doing all we can to take the team forward on a physical and tactical level and ensure that we inspire fear from our opponents in the future.”