Dear Madam Isha Johansen,

I am sure you must have seen the latest draws of the AFCON 2019 campaign and like me; you must be fervently saying a little prayer every morning. In fact, I can even imagine you utter these words; “Oh Lord, I pray that you will provide for our darling Leone Stars the strength, commitment, dedication and above all, the magic wand that would ensure them a place in the finals of the continent’s biggest showpiece.- Amen”

Well, while I believe in prayers, they alone cannot take us to the final. We need more than prayers. We have to fix our perennial problems and the FA will have to do more than prayers.

Since 1996 in South Africa, Leone Stars have not qualified for the Nations Cup. That was 21 years ago and before you and I started using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. We have been absent in the continent’s masterpiece with a record of 11 times of trying. Yet, we do not seem to have learnt from our mistakes.

As a lover of Salone football and a soccer pundit, I eat, drink and sleep football. I talk to a lot of football pundits and enthusiasts as well. I am sure you do the same and from what I hear from them, our failure to reach the continent’s top competition could be down to the following; lack of proper planning leading to poor preparation in the build-up to qualification campaigns, the absence of a proper football structure and the football politics. Do they sound familiar?

The Leone Stars will kick start their 2019 AFCON campaign at home against the Harambee Stars next month. For me, for you and almost all of our soccer-loving populace, this should be a perfect home game to send a loud message in Group F.

Our first two opening matches against Kenya and Ethiopia are must-win games if we are to strengthen our grip in a group that Ghana’s Black Star fancies their chances as the strongest and one of the most consistent performers in recent years in African football.

With regards to our last Afcon campaign – I will give credit to the players and their Ghanaian coach, Sellas Tetteh; as we narrowly missed out on securing qualification to Gabon 2017 after drawing 1-1 with Ivory Coast in Bouake back in September 2016.

Madame FA President, as you have already seen the fixtures, I am tempted to ask- have you announced any preparation for the Leone Stars opener next month? Are we waiting for the usual last minute to apply the fire brigade approach? I note with keen interest that there are contradicting reports on Sellas Tetteh’s position and your FA led by you keeps saying he is still the man for the job.

There are three sides to a story. Have heard two sides to the stories? What is the third, I mean the truth to the story? Is he or is he not going to take the boys out to the pitch in time for the opener in Freetown next month? From what I heard, Tetteh is currently in charge of Ghana’s top-flight side, Liberty Professionals who are in a deep relegation fight in the league.

The 60-year-old Ghanaian Under-20 World Cup winner had said he would not run away from the Leone Stars coaching job but after the loss to Ivory Coast in September last year and with rumours of unpaid salary, there were indications that Tetteh was ready to move away from the team. He was fed up and was only willing to sign a long-term deal until all arrears have been paid, others have plainly put it.

Madam Johansen, while Leone Stars players are yet to kick a ball in readiness for the Harambee Stars next month, it would interest you to know that our opponents have recently played Uganda to a 1-1 draw (March 23), defeated DRC 2-1 (March 26) and held Malawi to a goalless in April as part of their preparations for the qualifiers and for a place in Cameroon, 2019. On our side, we have not done anything. You do not qualify to these competitions just like that. Preparation is the key and so far, we are clearly failing to prepare.

Following 2019 draws, Deputy Minister of Sports Al-Sankoh Conteh told this medium that government has assured Leone Stars of its full support in their quest to reach the African Nations Cup 2019 in Cameroon. He even said: “The government is willing to give all the necessary support to ensure we have a plan early and mobilize the most qualified and best of our players without any bias,” Well these were nice sentiments expressed by the Minister. However, we await these words to be backed by action and so far, we have not yet learnt how to plan early.

Madam President, tell any Sierra Leonean that Leone Stars will qualify this time for the Nation Cup and some will roll their eyes if not hiss. We are not a nation of pessimist but the reality is that because of inaction, people have lost hopes of once again seeing the green white and blue represented at the Nations Cup. Can you prove these doubters, including me wrong?

Sierra Leoneans have waited for too long and we are now desperately waiting to see our darling Leone Stars qualify for the Nations Cup and for a start; I am going to submit a list of players who, based on their present form and experience, have what it takes to be part of a Leone Stars build-up and the qualifiers.

Keeper: (Solomon Zombo Morris US Quevilly-Rouen France)

Defenders: (Captain Umaru Bangura FC Zürich), (David Simbo Yeni Amasyaspor Turkey), (Mustapha Dumbuya Partick Thistle Scotland), (Hassan Milla Sesay FC Lahti Finland), (Alie Sesay IK Frej Sweden), (Ishmael Koroma Nyköpings BIS Sweden)

Midfielders: (Mohamed Medo Kamara Kuwait SC), (Alfred Sankoh Denizlispor Turkey), (John Kamara FC Kaisar Kazakhstan), (Abdul Sesay JS Hercules Finland), (Khalifa Jabbie FC Sheriff Tiraspol Moldova), (Michael Lahoud Miami FC USA), (Rodney Strasser Gil Vicente F.C. Portugal).

Forwards: (Kei Kamara New, England Revolution MLS), Alhassan Kamara, BK Hacken Sweden), (Mohamed Buya Turay, AFC Eskilstuna Sweden), (Gibrilla Wobay NK Olimpija Ljubljana Slovenian)

With all said and done, is the FA and by extension, the government ready to put smiles on the faces of this soccer-loving nation once again?

I wait with baited breath but quickly, let me end by congratulating you on your recent appointment as Chair-lady of Women’s Football in Africa.

I hope you will represent our country to the very best of your abilities.

Good Luck!!!

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Nigeria 🆚 Sierra Leone | Highlights - #TotalEnergiesAFCONQ2023 - MD1 Group A