JOHANNESBURG: Liberia needed two penalties and a calamitous defensive error to beat Sierra Leone 3-1 on the first day of 2022 World Cup qualifying in Africa as the continents smaller teams enjoyed a rare moment in the global spotlight.
Together with the tiny Red Sea state of Djibouti, Liberia were the only home winners in eight first-round first-leg ties.
Djibouti won for only the second time in 12 years as they edged eSwatini 2-1 with Hamza Idleh scoring the 74th-minute winner.
Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and Namibia won away while Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho and Tanzania forced away draws to give themselves a good chance of advancing.
The 28 bottom-ranked countries in Africa are participating in the first knockout round, with the winners moving onto next year’s group stage where they will be joined by the 26 top-ranked teams and placed into 10 groups of four.
More first-round first-leg matches will be played over the next three days with the second legs scheduled for Sunday and Tuesday.
Liberia, cheered on by the country’s president and former world footballer of the year George Weah, were ahead in the 18th minute after Terrence Tisdell converted a spot-kick but Sierra Leone, playing a first international since the lifting of a year-long FIFA ban, equalised through Iceland-based Kwame Quee.
But another penalty eight minutes from time and a third goal from captain Sam Johnson, as he took advantage of mix-up in the visiting defence, gave Liberia’s new English coach Peter Butler a winning start.
French coach Julien Mette masterminded a shock win for Djibouti.
Mahdi Mahabeh put the tiny Horn of Arica nation ahead in the final minute of the first half off a retaken penalty at a small, packed stadium in Djibouti City.
Siboniso Mamba levelled on 56 minutes for eSwatini, a renamed country called Swaziland when they won 6-0 in Djibouti at the same stage of the last World Cup qualifying competition.
Disappointment turned to jubilation for Djibouti, known as the Shoremen of the Red Sea, when a saved penalty ran loose and substitute Idleh fired into the net for the winner.
A late penalty from centre back Nanu gave Guinea Bissau a 1-0 win at Sao Tome e Principe while Telinhos’ ninth-minute goal for Mozambique earned them victory by the same scoreline in Mauritius.
Namibia beat Eritrea 2-1 away in Asmara as an own goal proved decisive.
Equatorial Guinea, with Sassuolo midfielder Pedro Obiang dominant in midfield, had the better of South Sudan in Khartoum but conceded a late own goal to draw the match 1-1.
South Sudan, forced to play on neutral territory because their only major stadium is being renovated, beefed up their line-up with players from Australia, where a large refugee community was established more than a decade ago during the civil war with Sudan.
It was the work on the left-hand side of Melbourne Victory’s Kenny Athiu that set up the equaliser.
Ethiopia were held at home by Lesotho, but will take some comfort from not conceding.
Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2019