Bursting with pride from their first win following the defeat of Moamar Kadhafi, Libya’s national team were welcomed home to a fanfare by fans, who hailed it a “good omen” for Libya’s future.
Dozens of highly excited fans on Monday night waited on the tarmac of Benghazi’s small aiport to congratulate the players on their return from Cairo, where they defeated Mozambique 1-0 on Saturday.
The joyful crowd lustily sang the new national anthem and waved the ‘Free Libya’ flag that has replaced the Kadhafi-era green banner as the team walkeed off the plane.
“Thank you Rabi al-Lafi, you made Kadhafi cry”, they chanted in reference to the only goal-scorer in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
“Cry, Taib, cry, our revolution will overcome,” they chanted disparagingly, referring to Tarek Taib, who was kicked out of the squad for being considered pro-Kadhafi.
“How I feel is indescribable. It’s as if my mother has just put me on this earth again,” enthused assistant coach Abdelhafidh Rbeich.
There to congratulate players, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-president of the National Transitional Council (NTC, the new Libyan authorities), admitted to having cried when Lafi scored.
“It’s the first victory since the 17 February revolution, the team has honoured us. God willing, it is only the start of a long list of victories”, he told AFP, referring to the uprising against Kadhafi that began in mid-February and saw Kadhafi’s Tripoli headquarters overrun on August 23.
“I still can’t believe it, the new flag that was hoisted, the new hymn that was sung there” for the first time at this match, said emotional 20-year-old fan Sherif Mosmar, branding this first victory a “good omen” for Libya.
The excitement was also palpable among Libyan journalists, with a brand new local newspaper even sending seven young, highly charged reporters to cover the team’s return.
This victory takes on even more significance for the players and NTC in uniting a highly regionalised Libya behind the national side.
In the NTC’s eastern stronghold Benghazi, the streets were deserted during the match, while the capital Tripoli exploded with joy at the win.
“Our victory makes all the Libyan people happy and unites it behind the team,” Lafi told AFP.
“Among us there are people from Misrata, Tripoli, Benghazi. There is no difference between us. The difference is from another era. The post-17 February Libya is one of national unity, east to west”, added Ahmed Saad, one of Libyan football’s stars.
“We dedicate this victory to the martyrs and revolutionaries that continue to fight, it’s the least that we can offer the Libyan people. Let’s hope that this joy is crowned with the (total) liberation of Libya,” he added.
For goalkeeper Samir Abbud, the fact that Saadi, the football-mad son of Moamar Kadhafi, will never play in the selection again is another reason to rejoice.
“I played with him. You felt hampered. You were still with the son of a head of state, you weren’t on an equal footing,” he explained, asserting that Saadi could very well send off a player who had not passed him the ball.
“If God wills it, we will carry on winning,” said Lafi. “I hope that we will now see Libya in the World Cup qualifiers.”