PAYNESVILLE, Montserrado – The 2019/20 National County Sports Meet ended in a disappointing deadlock on Sunday, Jan. 26 at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, as Nimba, one of the two finalists in the men’s football category, walked off the pitch in protest of a penalty call that would have likely placed its rival, Grand Kru, ahead by two goals.
In the 50th minute of the match, center referee Hassan Corneh pointed at a spot for a second penalty shot in favor of the Grand Kru team. Grand Kru was already ahead of Nimba by a goal. The second penalty placed Grand Kru, the home county of President George Weah, ahead of its rival.
The deadlock in the final match surprised many Liberians, who quickly took to social media to express their disappointment in the fact that the unifying purpose of the national competition went unfulfilled by this deadlock. Many believed the result of the game contradicted the very theme of tournament, ‘Sustaining the Peace.’
The two teams thrilled fans to excellent performance throughout the match, and indeed the tournament. Both teams were highly predicted to reach the finals, which they did. The sides missed great opportunities for goal, but it was Grand Kru who got a first-half stoppage time lead from the penalty spot.
Referee Corneh swiftly awarded a penalty to Grand Kru and a second yellow card to Emmanuel Torpon of the Nimba squad for a handball contact in the box. Rufus Kennedy stepped up to the task to convert the penalty into an easy goal, his third in the tournament.
Nimba entered half-time with a goal down and one less player (now 10 players) for the rest of the match. Five minutes into the second-half, Referee Corneh awarded a second penalty for a foul committed in the box, which triggered open Nimba protests from players and fans, and infused tensions into the match that led Nimba players and technical staff to walk off the pitch. On entering their dressing room, the Nimba team failed to return to the game, thus ending the match in deadlock.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports has made no comments about this unfortunate outcome of the game, although a press conference is announced for Tuesday, January 28. The ministry’s silence is particularly troubling because there were increasing suspicions ahead of the match that a plan was afoot to manipulate the match in favor of Grand Kru, the president’s home county.
Meanwhile, the game for the third-place spot saw no hurdles. Group C host and table topper Maryland also ensured that its fans would have something to celebrate upon its return to the southeast. The Cape Palmers boys got a narrow 1-0 win over Lofa to finish third in the football category. Patrick Dweh’s lone goal in the first-half was enough to secure the team a third-place title.
In the kickball grand finale, Grand Bassa lost the championship title to Margibi.
The two sides met in the finals for the second consecutive year, with Margibi meeting revenge for its defeat in the 2018/19 finals in a 3-0 win over Bassa to win this year Kickball title. Lofa finished third following a 6-3 win over Bong.
Featured photo courtesy of The Liberian Sports Online