“We must be confident and if we can get 4 points, we will qualify at least as the best third-placed team.’ – Rodney Michael

The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, known as the TotalEnergies 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, takes place in Cameroon from January 9 to February 6, 2022. 

After an absence spanning over two decades, Sierra Leone will be featuring again in the competition. The Leone Stars qualified after securing second place in group L in the Total Energies AFCON 2021 qualifiers.

SierraEye spoke to Rodney Michael, Chair of Mighty Blackpool Football Club, ahead of the tournament. 

SierraEye: What are your thoughts about group E in the upcoming AFCON2021 in Cameroon?

Rodney Michael: GROUP E, at first sight, appears a simple prediction…but after careful scrutiny and understanding that Equatorial Guinea has some exciting foreign-based players, Algeria and Ivory Coast will not find it is so easy. Leone Stars are also boisterous and optimistic. There is a possibility of three teams qualifying from some groups…and Group E could well be one of the groups to have three qualifiers. An interesting group that will surely produce some real entertainment. 

SierraEye: Are you happy with the Leone Stars Team selection?

RM: Overall, a good squad and team selection that is acceptable. Personally, I feel the Blackpool goalkeeper, Francis Koroma, should have been in the first 23-man team or, at worse, taken as one of the five additional players permitted by CAF. I disagree with the inclusion of some others, but the coach has the mandate and should be allowed to justify his selections with good results. After all, it is impossible to appease everyone.

SierraEye: Who will be the key players to watch for Leone Stars?

RM: The players to watch for Leone Stars will depend on team selections. I hope the young David Sesay, a defender in the lower English league with Barnet, is given a chance. This could be his moment to shine. Kei Kamara will be our best scoring option. A few new additions like Issa Kanu will be ones to watch…and of course, the people’s favourite, Musa “Tombo” Noah Kamara, if given a chance, could star. All eyes will be on the goalkeeping choice as our options are all home-based – a credit to the domestic Premier League. 

SierraEye: What do you think are our chances?

RM:  Whatever happens in Cameroon, Leone Stars has set a record. Now it is to build on it. We must be confident and if we can get 4 points, we will qualify at least as the best third-placed team. I am optimistic we could do that, but the chances are unclear. We remain underdogs, but we must be confident.

SierraEye: What will your advice be to the management and coach of Leone Stars?

RM:  My advice to the technical team and management is to pick the best team, not to appease anyone or any player. Let them work with their conscience and be confident, knowing Sierra Leone appreciates them for results and the qualification. We could make the next round with hard work and genuine team selections.

SierraEye: Which teams do you think are the teams to watch in AFCON 2021?

RM:  Teams to watch: Morocco, Algeria, Cameroon and Mali. Extreme outsiders who could surprise a few are The Gambia, Comoros and Sierra Leone. 

SierraEye: Who do you think will emerge as the eventual winners?

RM:  Eventual winners would be either Morocco or Algeria…my preference is for Morocco.

SierraEye: Do you have any concerns about Cameroon hosting the tournament?

RM:  My fear is with security threats in Cameroon and whether there could be some skirmishes. Also, one must worry about the omicron virus and teams are already reporting positive covid results. It could be a disaster if not managed well.

SierraEye: What do you make of the comments by Patrick Viera and Ian Wright that the tournament deserves more respect?

RM:  Patrick Viera and Ian Wright are spot on. We have been disrespected as a continent and our most important tournament is trivialised by people who do not appreciate the AFCON. However, there is a saying that the world values you in the way you value yourself. As a continent, we always have and continue to sell ourselves short. We need to stand up and protect our integrity and prestige. We must demand our rights and not allow our dependency on FIFA to deprive us of our right to stand firm on principles. The African Union (AU) should work with CAF to raise funding for continental tournaments and make our competitions globally appreciated and respected. We need to stand at par with all other continents and not be solely dependent on FIFA funding or assistance. 

SierraEye: Will you be in Cameroon?

RM:  I am waiting for the Cameroon Embassy in the UK to consider my request for a visa even though I am a non-resident of the UK. If approved, I intend to travel and witness the Leone Stars match against Côte d’Ivoire… just to be part of the history. Unfortunately, without the visa approved in the UK, it will be difficult to make the tournament…which will be so sad

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