Feelers from the Freetown camp of the Leone Stars reveal John Keister’s men are spoiling to repeat their famous victory over the Super Eagles in 2001. IKENWA NNABUOGOR investigates…
It was a national celebration for the Sierra Leoneans when they achieved the unthinkable by beating their more illustrious neighbours Nigeria 1-0 in the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup qualifier in Freetown in April 21, 2001.
The most unthinkable was the mere fact that the Eagles’ best legs were in the infamous loss that attracted 35 000 spectators at the National Stadium, Freetown.
The defensive quartet of Ifeanyi Udeze, Taribo West, Emeka Ifejiagwa and Joseph Yobo failed to stop Sidique Mansaray from scoring the lone goal.
The entire team centered around mercurial midfielder and captain Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha alongside Sunday Oliseh, Finidi George, Nwankwo Kanu and Julius Aghahowa could do little to stop the national celebrations for the Sierra Leoneans.
The monumental win is still fresh in the minds of Sierra Leoneans as they partied throughout the night as if they had beaten Brazil to win World Cup.
Significantly, the infamous loss led to sacking of Super Eagles coach Jo Bonfrere and almost marked the end of former Tembissa Classic goalkeeper and current SuperSport TV pundit Idah Peterside’s brief career with his country.
Interestingly, playing in the midfield for the surprise victorious Leone Stars’ team was the current Leone Stars’ coach John Keister who helped keep things tight in the midfield as Sidique Mansaray struck in the 25th minute to upset Nigeria.
Leone Stars, expectedly, still failed to qualify for the World Cup in the Far East, but were more than fulfilled they achieved a victory against their West African neighbours for their second ever win in 14 previous encounters.
According to Abubakar Kanu, Sports Presenter in the Freetown local FM radio station, Kalleone FM, owned by former Leone Stars’ striker and record scorer Mohammer Kallon, the 2001 victory over Nigeria is still talked about.
“The celebration for this rare victory lasted throughout the week and the fans were very happy they beat Nigeria,” Kanu told SCORENigeria
“It’s on record in Sierra Leone that tiny Leone Stars beat stars like Okocha, Kanu, West and Yakubu we adore and watch on TV here in Sierra Leone.
“We had a very good team then with the current coach John Keister in the team and we fought the Eagles to a standstill.
“We were more than satisfied with the victory and even our non-qualification to the World Cup didn’t really matter to us.
“It didn’t appear so though, but truth be told Nigeria is a giant in soccer in Africa and beating them to qualify for the World Cup would be the tallest order in the history Sierra Leonean football.
“But I must confess it was a very huge day for us, some fans actually took it to another level.
“Each time we engage Nigeria in Freetown, the fond memories of the big win come flashing back.
“It’s always a flashpoint for us to do the yeoman’s job again and again.
“The return leg in Freetown will be huge again and I hope Keister will lead his men for a repeat of the 2001 feat and our overall third victory over Nigeria.”
It’s a kind of national theme song for any Nigerian that visits Sierra Leone as issues regarding football will always flash them back to the unforgettable 2001 victory.
That victory appears to be the major booster for the Sierra Leone side each time they encounter Nigeria.
The last time out was a spirited one for the visiting West Africans as they put up a great fight at Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos as Eagles managed a 2-1 win.
Finland-based Obi Metzger, whose father, Obi Metgzer Senior was the coach that achieved that memorable Freetown victory told SCORENigeria that the players are fired up for the double header with the 2001 victory on their minds.
“The win is still an unofficial national monument in Sierra Leone as we are still celebrating that victory,” he continued.
“My father was the coach then and as a small boy then I can recall how we partied all through the night.
“Keister the current coach must have been firing up his boys that they can still repeat the feat.
“Though, the Leone Stars’ team is not as solid as the Super Eagles, but they will put up a good fight.
“Eagles should expect a determined side and beating them won’t come cheap.”
The double encounters will determine how they would fare against their big brothers.
The April 21, 2001 line-ups
Super Eagles – Idah Peterside – Emeka Ifejiagwa (Nwankwo Kanu, 70′), Taribo West, Joseph Yobo, Ifeanyi Udeze – Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Finidi George (Garba Lawal, 46′), Benedict Akwuegbu, Aiyegbeni Yakubu, Julius Aghahowa (Tijani Babangida, 46′)
Coach – Jo Bonfrere
Sierra Leone – Brima Sesay, Julius Gbrilla Woobay, Mohammed Sesay, Mamadou Bah, Abdulai Kamara (Hassan Koeman Sesay, 73′), Aluspah Brewah, John Keister, Safa Sama Pa, Sidique Mansaray, Toronka Turay, Mohammed Kallon.
Coach – Sam Obi Metzger Snr