Liberia host international as Ebola ban lifted

Liberia host international as Ebola ban lifted

International football returns to Liberia this weekend when they host Guinea in a 2016 African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifier after the lifting of an Ebola-induced ban.

The 13-month suspension was scrapped in May by African football governing body CAF and Guinea will be the first foreign side to play in Monrovia since that decision.

Liberia defeated Lesotho at home in May last year in a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.

But as the epidemic spread -- leading to a World Health Organization-estimated death toll of 11,207 -- Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea were prevented from hosting international football.

The bans on Sierra Leone and Guinea remain and after being declared Ebola-free two months ago, Liberia suffered a setback this week with a fresh outbreak. 

While the ban was in force, Liberian national teams and clubs staged matches at neutral venues or forfeited home advantage.

Coach James Debbah will appreciate playing at home as his team must overcome a 3-1 first-leg deficit in the competition for home-based footballers.

Liberian media blamed the Guinea defeat on eight players being kicked out of the squad for allegedly sneaking out of a training camp.

The suspensions reportedly deflated morale and finding replacements delayed the departure of the team from Monrovia, forcing the first leg in Bamako to be postponed 24 hours.

Amadou Camara bagged a first-half brace for Guinea and after Allison Dweh halved the deficit, Ibrahim Sory Sankhon restored the two-goal advantage.

Liberia are traditionally poor at overtaking arrears and their best chance of survival may be to win 2-0 and squeeze through on the away-goal rule.

Zimbabwe take a 2-0 lead and a 100 percent away record of six victories in three previous qualifying competitions to the Comoros.

However, the island nation will draw hope from restricting the hot favourites to a one-goal advantage in Harare until Tatenda Mudewe scored a minute from time.

Midfielders Ronald Chitiyo and Wisdom Mutasa and strikers Thomas Chideu and Evans Rusike miss the return match after being invited for trials outside the country. 

"It will be challenging working with new players," admitted coach Callisto Pasuwa, "because developing combinations takes time. 

"We dare not underrate the Comoros, who boast well-built footballers and are dangerous from set pieces."

Namibia have vowed to attack 2009 CHAN bronze medalists Zambia in Lusaka rather than defend a 2-1 first-leg advantage.

"We must go at them," stressed Namibia coach and former goalkeeper Ronnie Kanalelo. "I believe our speed and tactical discipline can bring success." 

Kenya have to wipe out a 2-0 away loss to Ethiopia if they are to remain in contention for a place at the 2016 tournament being hosted by fellow east Africans Rwanda.

The Kenyans` task under Scottish coach Bobby Williamson would have been easier had Kevin Kimani not had a late penalty saved by Tarik Getnet.

Uganda and Burundi appear set to advance in the other east African ties having built leads away to Tanzania and Djibouti respectively.