Libyans cheer return of international matches

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 20, 2012 4:03 PM
Libyans cheer return of international matches

By Mohammed Al Tommy

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan soccer fans of all ages came out to cheer the first international matches played in the North African country since the conflict that ousted Muammar Gaddafi amid hope Monday's games would be the start of many more to come.

CSKA Sofia, the 31-times Bulgarian champions, were the first foreign team to play in Libya after the uprising against Gaddafi's rule erupted on February 17 last year.

Although the "Benina Martyrs" stadium in the eastern city of Benghazi was not full, about 1,000 Libyan men, women and children came to support the two home sides playing, Al Ahli Tripoli and Al Nasr Benghazi.

"We feel more comfortable now. We watched football matches without interest during the revolution but it is different now and it feels great," Libyan fan Saad Mohammed al-Breghathy, said. "I wish the Libyan national team all the best as well for Libyan football in general."

Waving the red, green and black flag of Libya's new National Transitional Council, as well as those for local teams, the crowd watched three 45-minute games, cheering loudly when the first goal - by Al Ahli Tripoli - was scored.

Al Ahli Tripoli beat CSKA Sofia 1-0 but the Bulgarian team went on to beat Al Nasr Benghazi 1-0 in the second match. The two Libyan teams then played each other, with Al Nasr Benghazi beating Al Ahli Tripoli 1-0.

During the game, men in the crowd beat drums as the crowd chanted slogans such as "Raise the Libyan flag" and "Whether you like it or not, Benghazi was the spark," referring to the start of Libyan uprising in the eastern city, which lies about 1,000 km from the capital Tripoli.

The crowd set off small fireworks during the breaks and sang Libya's national anthem.

"This game and similar games will allow the Libyan championship to start again," said spectator Majdi al-Agouri, who works at Benghazi airport.

The Libyan league has been suspended since last February but clubs have continued to play in continental competitions by forfeiting their right to play at home in knockout ties, which were reduced to a single match at their opponent's ground.

The national team used Mali and Egypt as their home grounds in the African Nations Cup qualifiers and reached the finals, which were co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

(Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alison Wildey)