- Ongoing unrest in Libya harming football in the country
- Local league suspended for 18 months, national team play home games abroad
- Zakaria Al Harash says country still up to the challenge of World Cup qualifiers
The ongoing fighting and instability in Libya has led to a suspension of domestic football for the last 18 months and the national team having to play their home games abroad. This has unsurprisingly affected the performances of the Mediterranean Knights, who failed to qualify for the most recent edition of the Africa Cup of Nations or FIFA World Cup™ despite competing valiantly in both qualifying tournaments.
FIFA.com spoke with one of the team’s rising stars, Zakaria Al Harash, who discussed the effect of the conflict on the country’s recent results.
“The main obstacles over the past few years has been the fact that we’ve had to play outside Libya,” he said. “When you play abroad, you find things more difficult on the pitch, no matter how good you are. But we’ve got used to that now as we’ve been playing at neutral venues for a few years. We hope our results in the upcoming qualifiers will be better this time.”
As the world’s most popular sport, football brings the Libyan people together in the hope of seeing their team succeed. “The harsh situation Libya is experiencing has only increased the people’s appetite for football,” Al Harash said. “The local league has been on hiatus for a year and a half, and the national team is the only outlet for the Libyans. We therefore need to do our best to make our people happy and help them forget the tough situation they are going through.”
Extensive journey for a young player
Though not yet 22, Al Harash has played for clubs in four countries and made his debut with Libya’s A’ national team (for home-based players only) before being called up to the full senior squad. “First I played for Alahli Almusrati, where I started my football career in the youth teams before moving to Al Ahli Tripoli. There I also played with the youth sides before breaking into the senior ones at the age of 18,” said the CS Constantine player. “Then I was called up to the Libyan A’ national football team and played in the African Nations Championship in Morocco.
“After that, I went to Montenegro on loan, where I played for one season, before moving to Ittihad Tanger. My experience in Montenegro was successful, unlike my time with Ittihad Tanger, where the club repeatedly changed coaches, which affected my performances. Most recently I’ve been playing for the Algerian club CS Constantine, where I’ve done very well.”
After his successful experience with the A’ national team and participation in the Morocco 2018 African Championship, the player was called up to the full team for the first time in October last year. “Faouzi Benzarti was the first to bring me into the squad. Akram Al Hamali was with him in the technical team. I was glad and greatly honoured to play with the team in the recent games against Tunisia and Tanzania.”
The draw for CAF’s World Cup qualifiers for Qatar 2022 placed Libya in Group F alongside Gabon, Angola, and Egypt, the latter having competed at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Asked about this group, Al Harash said: “Our three opponents, but particularly Egypt, are strong sides and recognised as such right across the continent. The competition will be fierce, but Libya will be well prepared for these games and will achieve good results.”
He said he was eager to get playing time and compete against some of the big names in the group. “It’d be wonderful to face Mohamed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. But the pitch does not recognise names. I will do my part in our games against them and against all the other teams. We need to put on a performance that befits our team.”
World Cup dream
Naturally, every footballer aspires to play at a FIFA World Cup, and every player is entitled to this dream, especially in Africa, where many countries, such as Angola and Togo in 2006, have made history with unexpected qualifications.
“Every Libyan dreams that the country will one day participate in the World Cup,” concluded the player. “We’ve never qualified for this global tournament, but this time around we have lofty ambitions despite our being in a tough group. Nothing is impossible in football. If we make it to Qatar 2022, we’ll be realising the long-held dream of the Libyan people.”