By Omar Jatta
Tapha Manneh guided LISCR FC to a narrow CAF Champions League preliminary round victory over Sudanese Premier League Champions, Al Hilal at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in Monrovia, Liberia, last Sunday .
The Gambian coach, who’s enjoyed and incredible maiden season in Liberia, where he guided his side to a domestic double, continues his rise to becoming one of the best young Gambian coaches around. He has guided his side to secure a very crucial 1-0 home victory over Al Hilal, defying all odds against a team that have made over made over 30 appearances in the CAF first tier competition.
The Liberian First Division champions went ahead through Sheku Sheriff’s goal in the 20th minute from a set play resulting from a foul on one of Manneh’s new recruits and compatriot, Bully Drammeh at the edge of the Al Hilal penalty area, which became the decider in a highly contested game in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, in front of the new Liberian President and former World Footballer of the year Mr George Oppong Weah, who must have been left impressed by his nation’s league champions as they contained the former two time finalists in the competition to ensure victory at home.
Liberian midfielder, Sheriff stepped up to take resulting free kick from the foul on Drammeh, which he curled past Al Hilal’s Cameroonian goalkeeper Loic Maxime, into the far corner to send the home crowd into euphoria. The goal was LISCR’s first in the competition on home soil.
The Liberian side could have and may be should have extended their lead when another golden opportunity presented itself to Striker, Mark Paye, who collected a beautiful pass from Allen Njie, but failed to beat Maxime in goal as he struck wide off target.
As expected the Sudanese champions came back from the break with more purpose and threw everything at LISCR but failed to find the an equaliser and will now have to do it on home soil if they are to make the next round of the completion.
The victory against one of Africa’s giants delighted LISCR’s Gambian coach, Manneh, who said he was pleased with the result.
“We want to be champions. If you want to be a champion, you have to beat a champion and that’s what we did today,” said Manneh who dedicated the victory to the goal scorer, Sheku Sheriff at a post-match press conference.
“The most important thing is that we got the three points. That was the score today and we are satisfied with the result.
“We are doing very well but Sheku Sheriff did a wonderful job. Scoring that goal was a lot. From an impossible angle, nobody was expecting it to be a goal, but he has been doing it in training ground and he brought that to the game,” the LISCR coach said.
Meanwhile, Hilal’s head coach, Sergio Farias, vowed to work harder and advance to the next stage of the competition. In a post-match conference, the Brazilian tactician said he had watched his opponents well and that he was going to prepare well for the return leg in Khartoum.
“Now, we know how the team plays. It’s a good team with [an] experienced squad,” he said. “They know how to attack and also to defend. But now, we have some idea about the team, we will prepare well for the return leg. We have 90 minutes in Khartoum. We’ll try to qualify to the next stage.”
LISCR now travels to Khartoum for the return leg on February 20 at the Al-Hilal Stadium in Khartoum