New Sierra Leone captain Steven Caulker has admitted that he is excited to lead the Leone Stars into the Africa Cup of Nations, Côte d’Ivoire 2023 qualifying campaign.

The Gaziantep defender, who is on loan from Turkish Süper Lig side Fenerbahçe, is set to lead Sierra Leone to his first continental qualifiers. 

Sierra Leone pitted in Group A, where they will face three-time Champions Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome or Mauritius, hoping to make successive Africa Cup of Nations appearances.

The qualifying matches will begin May 30, 2022, ahead of the tournament proper in Cote d’Ivoire. Sierra Leone will open their Group A campaign against Nigeria before hosting Guinea Bissau in the Guinean capital a few days after.

Caulker, 30, says he’s ready to test himself again against the best in African football, knowing that the task is a challenging one.

“I am excited – I think we got a lot of new talents, new players, a new system, and a new identity. I am really thrilled about taking this group into the qualifiers,” Caulker vehemently told FSL Sport.

The former Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur centre-back, who made his International debut for the Leone Stars in the goalless draw against Algeria at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, accepted that there are no easy games in African football.

“Our group is going to be tough. Obviously, Nigeria will be looking to bounce back after their disappointment in the World Cup qualifier against Ghana. Nigeria will want to prove they are a good team. The others, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome or Mauritius, going to be tricky games. For me, no easy game in African Football.”

The West African stadium nation is one of the many venues banned by the Confederation of African Football. On playing away from Freetown, Caulker is positive but noted he would have loved to play in Sierra Leone. 

“My honest opinion is that I would have loved to play in front of our fans in Sierra Leone, but it is what it is. We have to be ready. It is always good to face the best. It creates that challenge. We have to be at our best for all the games.”

On the Nigeria opener 

“Against Nigeria is an opportunity to put Sierra Leone on the global football map. I am sure we have done that in the last Afcon. We have to be at our best for all the games, not only against Nigeria. We should be heading into every game and believe we can win.”

He was named skipper of Sierra Leone during their Mediterranean training camp, where they lost 3-0 to Togo before victories against Liberia (1-0) and 2-1 over Congo during the March Fifa International break.

Connect with us, @football_sierra, on Facebook/ Instagram, Football Sierra Leone, the writer Alie Bittar on @bittar32 Contact bittar@footballsierraleonet.

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