Leone Stars tackle Guinea Bissau in World Cup race

30 August 2007 at 02:22 | 1945 views

By Abayomi Charles Roberts.

Sierra Leone is among 53 African countries in the race for the next FIFA World Cup. The national squad, Leone Stars, tackles Guinea Bissau in a two-leg clash later this year. Eight other countries play in this prelimnary round.

The first leg is around October 13 while the return matches come up mid-November. The other match-ups are: Seychelles/Djibouti; CARepublic/Sao Tome & Principe; Somalia/Swaziland; and Madagascar/Comoros. These ten are the lowest ranking African nations on FIFA’s scale.

It is Leone Stars’ next chance to save face as bearers of the Green-White-and-Blue. They have had a dismal show in the current qualifiers for the next Africa Cup of Nations. Leone Stars have managed only one draw in five matches, taking their worst beating ever. It was a 6-0 loss, away to Mali on June 17. Guinea Bissau’s worst defeat ever was also at the hands of Mali, a 6-1 routing. But that was a decade ago.

On paper, the odds might tip Leone Stars slightly. Still, the national FA and the players must shape up. Guinea Bissau, now ranked 188th by FIFA, is 24 rungs below Sierra Leone at 164th. Since FIFA began monthly ratings in 1993, the highest Guinea Bissau has ever gone is 115th, in 1994. Sierra Leone peaked at 51st in January 1996; thanks to a first-round win against Burkina Faso at South Africa ’96. Guinea Bissau has never won the annual Zone 2, a tournament of eight West African countries. Leone Stars have taken the Amilcar Cabral Cup twice, in 1993 and 1995; and were runners-up just as many times. Sierra Leone has always out-ranked Guinea Bissau at FIFA level.

Still, the boys should not rest on ratings or laurels. It is all history. Besides, under-estimating opponents is dangerous. Every game is another game; anything can happen. Guinea Bissau’s first ever entry in the World Cup was just recently, in 1998. Yet, their biggest-ever international win was a 7-2 thrashing of Benin in 2001. Benin beat Sierra Leone 2-0 last October. There have been hiccups in fielding the best players lately, as have been fights within SLFA. Sierra Leone needs to fix these problems, well ahead of the first leg.

The winners in this elimination round join 43 other nations for the first round proper. The 48 squads then go into pools of four, to be decided at a Draw in South Africa, late November. The group winners plus the eight best runners-up go into the next round. These 20 teams will compete in five groups, playing a mini-league. The top team in each group wins a World Cup slot. These five will join hosts South Africa, cup holders Italy, and 25 other countries for the world’s biggest football tournament.

South Africa has qualified, as host. However, its squad ‘Bafana Bafana’ will compete too. According to FIFA, “South Africa plays.... and any points will count towards the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, not the World Cup.”

The 2010 edition will be the first ever soccer World Cup on African soil.

Photo: Leone Stars’ Mohamed Kallon.