BY JOSEPH OPIO
Nations Cup qualifiers
Group 9, Friday
Sierra Leone v Benin
Togo v Mali
BEFORE last month, few within Uganda could have located Sierra Leone on the global map. Now, such geographical limitations are a thing of the past!
Since Sierra Leone became the unwitting custodians of Cranesâ€™ Nations Cup fortunes, Ugandans have kept the goings-on in the West African state under microscopic scrutiny.
From the presidential elections that catapulted President Ernest Koroma into office to the market price of the local delicacy, Ugandans have taken keen interest in all things Sierra Leonean.
The most forensic attention though will be reserved for the Nations Cup showdown between the Leone Stars and Benin this Friday.
The qualifier â€” which was initially postponed due to security concerns â€” will determine whether or not Uganda quenches its three-decade thirst for continental football.
Sierra Leone need only avoid defeat to propel Uganda into Ghana â€™08 â€” as the third best-placed runners-up.
Not that the formbook excites much hope!
Sierra Leone has lost all its Group Nine qualifiers bar one â€” conceding 12 goals in the process whilst scoring once in response.
The West Africansâ€™ last qualifier was against Mali last June â€” a traumatic experience that left the visitors battered and bruised after a harrowing 6-0 annihilation in Bamako.
It takes an incurable optimist to squeeze hope from such depressing statistics.
Mercifully, incurable optimism is one ingredient football addicts have in limitless quantity. Cranesâ€™ fans â€” being no different from their brethren worldwide â€” have concentrated on the scant positives that Sierra Leone has to offer.
Dodgy travellers they might be but ever since this campaign started, Sierra Leone have proved tricky customers at home.
The solitary point collected so far came courtesy of a feisty goalless draw against Mali in Freetown â€” a fate Togo narrowly sidestepped when Yao Senaya scored late to plunder a 1-0 win.
Ugandans only have to pray that Benin finds the Friday qualifier equally as treacherous.
The hosts seem hell-bent on ensuring that that be the case! Sierra Leone coach Jebbor Sherington has named a full-strength side, with 13 professionals invited for the encounter. Captain Mohamed Kallon, who missed their last qualifier through injury, is included.
The scorer of that solitary qualifying goal, the 27-year old will spearhead the attack against Benin. Itâ€™s a mission the ex-Inter Milan forward will undertake driven by personal ambition.
Kallon, recently released by Monaco, is seeking a transfer to Premiership outfit, Portsmouth â€” a quest that will be more advanced than harmed by an eye-catching display against Benin.
Pompey scouts are expected in Freetown!
Their attendance should motivate Kallon; the same way the presence of newly-elected head-of-state Koroma should arouse the entire team.
Koroma, whose election has inspired the equivalent of a political honeymoon in Freetown, will preside over the qualifier as the chief guest. And quite obviously, a defeat before his own eyes isnâ€™t the inauguration present the new President expects!
No wonder some Cranesâ€™ fans have already started taking geographical interest in Ghana!