- By Mohamed Deen
The Leone Stars’ dramatic comeback against the Super Eagles of Nigeria was nothing short of remarkable. The game was played on 13th November 2020 in Benin City, Nigeria and with the Super Eagles 4-0 up after just 30 minutes, many Sierra Leoneans were left fearful of an impending historic thrashing, only for Leone Stars to launch an astonishing fightback to draw the game 4-4. That result, and the 0-0 draw in the return leg in Freetown, have significantly increased expectations among the fans that Leone Stars will qualify for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations.
With games against Lesotho and Benin still to come, here are four reasons why Sierra Leoneans should not get carried away as this team is still a work in progress:
- No wins in four games
With four games played and only two matches remaining, the Leone Stars are yet to win a single game in the qualifying round. We even failed to beat Lesotho in Freetown and they were expected to be the whipping boys in our group. The Southern Africans could be confident of getting a result when they host Leone Stars on 27th March 2021. We need to significantly improve our away form if we are to get a positive result in Lesotho.
- One Clean-Sheet in four games
In four games played so far, we have only managed a solitary clean sheet, and surprisingly it was against Nigeria in Freetown. We have conceded six goals already and scored five. Throughout the qualifying campaign so far, our defence has been average, to say the least. While we kept a clean sheet in our last game, we may need a similar performance in the coming games.
- The presence of Michel Dussuyer’s and the form of Benin
Benin’s French coach is no stranger to African football. He led the Syli Nationale of Guinea to the quarterfinal of the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations which was their best result in 30 years. He also led Guinea to yet another quarterfinal appearance at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. Despite having an unsuccessful spell managing the Ivory Coast, Benin appears to have benefited from his experience and knowledge of African football. His Benin team has only lost one game, and that was against the Super Eagles of Nigeria. In addition, his Benin team has kept three clean sheets in four games, and only Nigeria has scored against them. They could pose a significant problem to our hopes of qualifying as they’re currently just a point behind Nigeria in the group.
- Growing distractions off the field
The recent issues involving the SLFA nomination process for the forthcoming election could also have an impact on the national team. Chaos and Sierra Leone football appear to be two sides of the same coin. The nation went several years without a national football league, as football’s administration was beset by infighting and chaos, and tensions are rising yet again. We have not presented a united front for several years, and this could have an impact on the minds of the players. As Sierra Leoneans, we should offer our unflinching support to the national team but must not exert excessive pressure on the players. Should we fail to qualify for the Cup of Nations, we must pick up the pieces, dust ourselves and prepare to try again with a united front as the saying goes: ‘the table does not lie.’
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