MONROVIA, Montserrado – Liberia has kept alive hopes of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup, following a 3-2 aggregate win over neighboring Sierra Leone.
After a 3-1 win at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Liberia, the Lone Star needed to avoid a 2-0 defeat away at Sierra Leone to make the next round of the qualifiers.
But those hopes of going through to the next round appeared to have been dashed when Liberia conceded a 93rd-minute penalty while Sierra Leone was already leading by a goal.
To Liberians at the stadium and across the world, that was the end of Lone Star’s run, but then came 18-year-old goalkeeper Ashley Williams, who restored the hopes of Liberians and kept the Lone Star on course in their effort to reach the group stage of the world cup qualifiers.
Williams, who started playing football as a left-back, turned out to be the hero of the day when he denied Sierra Leone the chance of qualifying by saving Umaru Bangura’s penalty.
The 18-year-old dived to his left where Bangura struck to deny Sierra Leone a chance of qualifying. That singular move helped Liberia reached the group stage of the world cup qualifiers.
Upon his arrival in Liberia, Williams spoke exclusively to The Bush Chicken about how he got to the moment he now describes as the best in his career.
The Liberian world cup qualifier hero told The Bush Chicken he didn’t feel good conceding late penalty but rapidly grew confidence in the goal.
“The referee blew for the penalty and I didn’t feel good,” he said. “Later, I felt very confident of making a save. It was a huge moment for me and the country. I knew I would have made a save, that’s why I didn’t complain much to the referee. All I did was to knock my gloves, stand between the sticks and focus.”
Williams decided to fall on the left because of what he’s seen in international games: “The decision to fall on my left was crucial. I know in international competitions, right-footed players kick in the left. I saw him [Umaru Bangura] standing and I knew he [would] kick on my left. I decided to fall there, and with God, I made the save.”
Williams wouldn’t have been the hero today if he had continued playing the position he started with as a footballer. He started as a left-back player, playing for two years for fourth-tier team Duke Football Club.
While playing as the left-back position, he would go on to play as a goalkeeper with his friends in penalty shootout gambling games. There, he discovered his goalkeeping talent and decided to stick to that when he joined his next club, Bassa Town Young Controllers in the third division. Williams played only a season with Bassa Town Young Controllers and was spotted by Gardnersville Football Club, the feeder team of his current club, LISCR Football Club.
Joining Gardnersville Football Club in 2015, Williams continued his good form in goal in the second division league. In his second season with Gardnersville Football Club, his performances caught the attention of LISCR Football Club Gambian coach, Tapha Manneh, who asked that he be promoted.
Williams was placed with LISCR Football Club before the second phase of the 2016-17 league and served as the club’s third-choice goalkeeper behind the team’s captain, Tommy Songo, who is also a national team player and Prince Wlame, who is currently with the LPRC Oilers.
The young goalkeeper made his LISCR FC debut on May 24, 2017, in an FA Cup match against Muscat Football Club. He came on as a second-half substitute in LISCR FC’s 3-0 win in the first leg of the FA Cup’s first round. He made his first start for the club in the return leg where LISCR Football Club and Muscat Football Club played to a 4-4 draw.
Williams then became part of the LISCR team that won the league unbeaten in 2017, along with the FA Cup. In 2018, he was called to the U-20 team for the WAFU Nations Cup that was hosted in Liberia.
As a third choice goalkeeper on LISCR Football Club, Williams’ ability was doubted by many Liberian fans who felt the opportunity should have been given to a player who had played more games for their club. He went on to silence his many critics as he guided Liberia to the final of the 2018 WAFU U-20 Nations Cup.
Williams’ performances with the U-20 team earned him a place in the senior team and he made his debut in a friendly match against Nigeria on September 12, 2018. He went on to make his competitive debut for the senior team on October 16, 2018, in Liberia’s 2-1 win over D.R. Congo at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex.
Since his competitive debut, Williams has played five games for Liberia, which include a 1-0 defeat in a friendly against Ivory Coast, a 1-0 win against Zimbabwe in the African Cup of Nations qualifiers, a 1-0 defeat away at D.R. Congo, and the two games against Sierra Leone in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Williams came from a family of goalkeepers. His late father Emmanuel Williams was a goalkeeper, while his uncle Sunday Seah is a former goalkeeper of the Liberian national team.
Being only 18 and turning into a national hero, the future is bright for Williams and for Liberia, which has had a goalkeeping crisis since Louise Crayton left the scene.
Featured photo by T. Kla Wesley Jr.