The Leone Stars B of Sierra Leone Kicked off the final phase of their CHAN 2023 qualifying campaign with a 2-1 defeat at home to Mali in the SKD Stadium Monrovia.

The Leone Stars B performance against Mali would have come as a surprise to many. This is because coach Francis Zappa Koroma made some tactical changes in his defensive line and also in the midfield. However, there was a sign of incohesion in the way Leone Stars B played against Mali.This was a result of Coach Zappa’s tactical approach. Tactically, the Leone Stars B got many things wrong against Mali. And as a result, there are lessons someone could learn in the team’s first leg match.

Francis Zappa Koroma The Risk Taker

It is an open secret that African Coaches tend to understand their African players better as they are culturally connected. Feelings are shared and relationships are built almost immediately. However, this lesson is the wrong act of changing your winning team. In his first three games as Leone Stars, team B handler taught us that Francis Zappa Koroma is not afraid to experiment and take risky decisions. Though the team fought very hard the match was a discrepancy between expectation and outcome.

Coach Zappa started this game with an attacking 442 formation without playing top-notch players in the first half of play like Saidu Bah Kamara, Saidu Fofanah and Abu Bakarr Samura. These were key players that played a vital role in his 2-0 win against the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde. Arguably, the absence of these vital players prevented the cohesion between the midfield and the attacking frontline and also made the Sierra Leoneans defense more susceptible to Mali’s blistering counter-attack.

Although the heavy formation gave Sierra Leone a more offensive impetus in the second half of play, Coach Zappa Koroma later brought top-notch midfielders to restore balance in the midfield and provide intensive pressure that led to Musa Noah Kamara 91 minutes consolation goal in the second half of play.

Vulnerable Defensive Setup

The wing Backs and the centre backs of the Leone Stars B team were consistently the weakest links in the first half and the early second half of the game. The wing backs were beaten way too easily by the Malians and the first Malian Forward Hamidou Sinayoko in the 23 minutes of play didn’t hesitate on the attack on the right wing connected with a cross that led to placing mali in front. It is no secret that Malian Winger Djibril Coulibaly appears very tough for Leone Stars Right Back Lamin Conteh in terms of Speed and strength. We also see poor communication between the goal Keeper Ibrahim Sesay and Saidu Mansaray which led to the conceding of the second goal in the 47 minutes by the Malian mask man, Ousmane Kamissoko.

Leone Stars B was not structurally organized against Mali. From the type of strategy used in marking to how the midfielders position themselves are clear manifestation that the coach needs to improve on his tactical approach to the reverse fixture.

Sierra Leone’s qualification to Algeria now hangs in the balance unless coach Francis Zappa Koroma restrategizes and provides the necessary leadership to turn things around in the Second Leg encounter on the 3rd of September 2022, in Bamako Mali.

The Enemy Within

The pitch on which Mali defeated Leone Stars B’s surface was not conducive as a result of the wet weather condition. The wet pitch impeded the smooth movement and ball progression, perhaps Sierra Leone could have secured a draw had they played on an actual normal football pitch.