CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Libya lifted their first international football title by beating favorite and West African power Ghana on penalties in the final of the African Nations Championship on Saturday.
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Libya's penalty kings, coached by former Spain boss Javier Clemente, won 4-3 in the shootout after it was 0-0 through 90 minutes and extra time at Cape Town Stadium. Libya also won penalty shootouts in the quarterfinals and semifinals in South Africa.
The African Nations Championship is the continent's lower-level tournament for home-based players, but that mattered little for the Libyans, whose best football achievement was watched by FIFA president Sepp Blatter at the former World Cup stadium. Blatter handed out the medals to the Libyan players.
Goalkeeper Mohamed Abdaula saved the first two Ghanaian penalties to help the North Africans clinch victory in a tournament they were initially meant to host but had to give up to South Africa because of unrest at home.
Ghana's penalty pain continued having been knocked out in shootouts in the semifinals at last year's African Cup and the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup.
Libya's best result before Saturday's triumph was reaching the final of the main African Cup on home soil in 1982, when they lost to Ghana on penalties. They handed over hosting rights for this tournament and last year's full continental championship following the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and because of the ongoing violence.
But under Clemente, Libya's footballers drew with Ghana in the group stage and beat Gabon and Zimbabwe in shootouts in the knockouts to progress to the deciding game. In the final, Libya held their own and was even the more dangerous team in some stages and had two clear chances to score in extra time when Elmutasem Abuschnaf headed over from close range and Abdelsalam Omar also failed with a header.
Ghana goalkeeper Stephen Adams made important saves throughout the 120 minutes and also blocked two Libyan spot kicks in the shootout. The sides were level at 3-3 after five kicks each.
Ahmed El Trbi scored for Libya and Joshua Tijani pulled his penalty wide for the crucial miss, confirming Libya's victory even though referee Mohamed Benouza of Algeria wasn't immediately certain that it was over and there was a slight delay before the Libyans could celebrate a meaningful feel-good moment for their long-troubled nation.
Libya will host the African Cup of Nations in 2017.