Libya’s Africa Cup of Nations debut was in 1982 – a tournament they qualified for as hosts. Which was no doubt controversial. At the time of the tournament, Muammar Gaddafi had ruled over Libya for thirteen years. Thirteen years of endorsing and financing radical groups – but also making Libya quite prosperous given their circumstances. However, this article focuses on the people of Libya and the joy and euphoria they get to experience by hosting a major tournament; The 1982 Africa Cup of Nations!
Libya’s Africa Cup of Nations
It was an eight-team tournament and Ghana awaited Libya in the opening game. Ahead of the tournament, Ghana already had three Africa Cup of Nations titles and two second-place finishes. Meanwhile, Libya were debutants and the clear underdog despite being the host nation. Ghana opened the scoring in the 28th minute with a goal from George Allhassan. But the hosts turned the game on its head, Abdel Razak Jaranah equalizing in the 58th minute and Fawzi Al-Issawi giving Libya a 2-1 lead 18 minutes later. They had the potential to secure a historic first win at the Africa Cup of Nations in front of 45,000 people. On home soil. It wasn’t meant to be, though. Opoku Nti equalized for Ghana in the 89th minute. Despite failing to win, it was an impressive result for Libya. But of course still bitter due to how close they came to winning.
Tunisia and Cameroon Clashes
Following Libya’s solid performance against Ghana, they had reason to be optimistic heading into their clash with neighbours Tunisia. Libya’s optimism proved to be warranted, as they won 2-0 quite comfortably. At this point, a place in the semi-finals was essentially guaranteed. They didn’t need a win in their final group game against Cameroon, which resulted in a somewhat boring 0-0 draw. But Libya still had all the reason to celebrate – they had advanced to the semi-finals as hosts of their first-ever Africa Cup of Nations!
As winners of Group A, Libya’s first knockout game opponents were the runner-ups of Group B, Zambia. Zambia lost 1-0 in their opening game to group winners Algeria but bounced back magnificently, defeating Ethiopia 1-0 and sensationally demolishing Nigeria 3-0. They had most definitely earned their place in the semi-finals and would be difficult opponents for Libya. Peter Kaumba gave Zambia the lead after 29 minutes, but Ali Al-Beshari equalized for Libya less than ten minutes later. The game was 1-1 after the first half. Then, in the 84th minute and on home soil in front of 50,000 spectators, Al-Beshari scored once again to secure Libya a place in the final. Sensational. Advancing all the way to the final in their first-ever AFCON tournament.
In the final game of the tournament, they were going to play against the very first team they met – Ghana. Ghana’s way to the final had somehow been even more spectacular. Defeating Algeria 3-2 after extra time. They were 2-1 down until they equalized in the 90th minute and then secured an astounding win with a goal in the 103rd minute. George Alhassan once again opened the scoring for Ghana. But in the 70th minute, Al-Beshari – as he so often did – scored for Libya and gave them hope again. The deadlock could not be broken and the final would be decided by a penalty shootout.
It was a particularly dramatic shootout. Everyone scored through the first five rounds of penalties and sudden death would be the decider. In the sixth round, neither Ghana or Libya scored. In contrast, they both scored in round seven. However, in round eight it would all come to an end. Opoku Afriyie of Ghana converted his penalty and put all the pressure on Libya’s Abdallah Zeiyu. It was Libya’s first-ever AFCON tournament. On home soil and in front of 50,000 people. The hopes of millions of Libyans rested on his shoulders. The pressure must’ve been unimaginable. No-one can blame him for failing to score. It was a cruel end for Libya. But they had surged beyond expectations and failed to replicate similar success ever since. Further cementing the legacy of the 1982 AFCON!