By DEWAH Fabrice TEH
Sports writer, Kick442.Com-Cameroon
When the forthcoming 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament kick off in Cameroon early next year, the 24 participating countries will be trooping into the country with one big fear and challenge, the stress of competing in the continent’s biggest football jamboree amidst challenges caused by the novel Coronavirus pandemic.
Nations will be competing in the tournament, readying themselves to narrate the story to future generations of how they went beyond all challenges to keep the flames of the continent’s most prestigious football gathering burning amid crisis from the Covid-19 virus that has for over a year, been causing havoc all over the world.
But among these countries, will be one nation who will be in, to tell a way bigger and attention appealing story. Sierra Leone, the outfit that will be defying three wars in quest of continental glory.
The West Africans will be making their debut in the AFCON in over 25 years the Leone Stars having last participated in the competition during the 1996 event in South Africa. Two years after their debut in the competition in the year 1994.
The Leon Stars’ prolonged absence from the event was characterized by periods of human sponsored and nature motivated crisis in the country.
Barely a year after its group stage exit from the 1996 AFCON, the Sierra Leonean Civil War that that slowed down activities in the country between 1991 and the year 2002, escalated once more in early 1997.
The resultant consequence entailed the West Africans forcefully pulling out from the qualifiers to the 1998 and 2000 AFCONs due to the unstable political atmosphere in the country as former war lord, Charles Taylor of the then National Patriotic Party in Sierra Leone waged havoc in the nation with fresh Coup d’Etat also taking place in the nation.
The 11-year civil war that left close to 70 thousand persons dead, did not only see Sierra Leone managing two group stage exits in the 1994 and 1996 AFCONs, but also pushed the Leone Stars to a fresh new reconstruction phase after the end of the war in the year 2002.
Almost 12 years after the crisis and reconstruction phase that saw the Leone Stars hitting their all-time highest FIFA ranking at the 50th spot globally in 2014, with hopes of a possible resurgence to conquer Africa, then stepped in another crisis or what others termed the health war.
The outbreak of the Ebola crisis in West Africa in 2014, affecting numerous nations including Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
This saw Sierra Leone banning itself from participating in all football matches during the peak of the crisis period in 2014.
The crisis also saw Sierra Leone being banned from playing home games in Sierra Leone with all players representing the Leone Stars obliged to be foreign based players in fear of possible infection on home based players.
The new found turbulence forced the Leon Stars playing a series of their home games in qualifiers to the 2015 AFCON in Yaounde, Cameroon, resulting to extreme difficulties and lack of possibilities to qualify for the 2015 AFCON in Equatorial Guinea.
Fast forward in 2020, the Leone Stars displayed extreme zeal, qualifying for the 2021 AFCON ahead of the likes of old guards Benin, despite the Coronavirus health crisis that almost brought the world down to its knees.
Still amid the Coronavirus pandemic, the West Africans will be competing in the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon next January 2022.
These, with hopes of going beyond the odds and bagging home the much coveted AFCON trophy under their compatriot, Head Coach John Keister himself a former Leon Star who has also had a taste of the turbulent times.
The Leone Stars will be hoping to begin with an excellent performance at the group stage where they will clash with defending champions Algeria, two time holders, Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea in Group E at the Japoma Stadium in Douala as Coach John Keister declared in an interview last week.
“The coaches working with me are people I have worked with as they are not first timers. I have seen how capable and devoted they are. It is not about me, but Sierra Leone and the boys we are taking are ready to compete and raise our flag.”
The Leon Stars will be relying on the services of the likes of former England defender, Steven Caulker and ex Bolton Wanderers midfielder, Mohammed Kamara as well as attacking kingpin Musa Noah Kamara.
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