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Libyan Premier League title to be decided abroad in group stage

By Morad Dakhil Football Writer, Libya

Libyan football will witness a new stage in its history when the final stage of the Premier League is held outside of the north African country for the first time.

Six clubs will compete for the title during a round-robin group format which is expected to begin in early July.

Organisers hope playing abroad will boost the profile of the top flight, but have not yet decided where the matches will be hosted.

The bold step was taken by the Libyan Football Federation (LFF) after a majority accepted a proposal following a discussion at a meeting of its board of directors.

“The decision came as a step from us to market the Libyan League externally and bring it back to the spotlight after it was among the most prominent Arab leagues,” Adel al-Awjali, chairman of LFF’s competitions committee, told BBC Sport Africa.

“This is a crucial stage of the league that requires us to achieve the principle of justice in competition between all teams.”

Hosting the Premier League’s play-offs, known as the Coronation Stage, abroad will also allow the use of video assistant referees during games.

The move – which comes a little over 12 months after Libya was allowed to host international matches and continental club games again – has been welcomed by the country’s national unity government, which is seeking to create a phase of political stability.

Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh held a meeting with LFF officials regarding the plans, and the details were clarified in a memorandum sent by al-Awjali.

Dbeibeh has allocated financial support amounting to approximately five million Libyan dinars (US $1m) to cover travel and accommodation expenses for the six clubs which qualify for the Coronation Stage.

The top three teams in each of two groups which are currently being contested will progress to challenge for the title, but sides will not carry any points forward.

Four clubs are set to qualify for continental competition, with Al Ahly Tripoli reaching the semi-finals of the Caf Confederation Cup this season after seeing off arch-rivals Al Ittihad in the last eight.

Rebuilding after civil war

Al Ittihad fans watch a game in Martyrs' Square in Tripoli
Al Ittihad fans will be hoping to see their side retain the Premier League title

This season will be just the fifth completed since 2009-10 because of an armed rebellion which toppled Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and then led to a civil war.

Libya’s national team were banned from playing on home soil in 2014, but that ban was lifted in February last year with their first international match back in Benghazi the following month.

Al-Awjali pointed out that the political crisis has led to sports infrastructure in the country being neglected, with some stadiums undergoing maintenance.

However, he believes the decision to play outside Libya provide certain benefits including encouraging stadium improvements which may allow Libya to stage regional or continental championships, offering domestic players a chance to play in a high-quality stadia and aiding the national team in their bid to qualify for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

LFF president Abdelhakim Chemlani met Wadie Jary from the Tunisian Football Federation in Tunisia on Tuesday, but al-Awjali says his organisation is yet to rubber-stamp its choice.

“We have not yet decided the name of the country that will host the finals,” he said.

“We have many options before us and we will decide on our own terms and our vision for organizing this event.

“We thank the Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, and the Minister of Sports for their understanding and support of our decision.”

Al Ittihad are the defending Libyan Premier League champions and boast a record 17 titles, while arch-rivals Al Ahly Tripoli lifted the most recent of their 12 titles in 2015-16.

Abdelhakim Chemlani meets Wadie Jary from the Tunisian Football Federation
LFF president Abdelhakim Chemlani has held discussions with FTF counterpart Wadie Jary

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