Next month’s Africa Cup of Nations Cup soccer qualifier between Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast will be played in a neutral country.
Barred since August by African soccer authorities from playing in their own country following the Ebola outbreak which devastated parts of West Africa, Sierra Leone and defending Africa Cup of Nations champions, Ivory Coast, will travel to Nigeria for their September 6 fixture.
The game will be played at the Teslim Balogun stadium in Lagos which was used during the 2009 Under-17 International Soccer Federation (FIFA) World Cup. In addition to the stadium, the Lagos State Soccer Association will provide medical facilities while the Sierra Leone Association will be responsible for the rest of the logistics.
In their opening matches last June, two-time regional champions Ivory Coast drew nil-all with Gabon while Sierra Leone lost 1-0 to Sudan in Khartoum.
Sierra Leone has been winless on the road since the ban was imposed. Last year, they drew with Cameroon in Yaoundé and succumbed to the Democratic Republic of Congo in Lubumbashi and Ivory Coast in Abidjan in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying competition.
Sorie Ibrahim Sesay, the head of the Sierra Leone Soccer Association competitions committee, welcomed the opportunity to play in Nigeria.
“It’s welcome news that our big brother Nigeria has agreed to host us against Ivory Coast,” he said. “This has brought more confidence to the players and officials against the opposition and has reduced our disadvantaged position we had suffered last year in having to play our home games on the opponent’s ground.”
The flight from Sierra Leone to Lagos is almost three hours while Ivory Coast will take about half that time to travel to Nigeria’s most populous city.
While the ban on domestic soccer was lifted earlier this month in Sierra Leone, the Confederation of African Soccer has made it clear it will allow Sierra Leone to host international matches when the World Health Organization declares the country Ebola-free.
Sierra Leone will have a new coach in the upcoming qualifier. Caretaker coach John Jebbor Sherington has been replaced by Ghanaian Sellas Tetteh, who has been contracted for three months.
The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations tournament will be held in Gabon.
The Ivory Coast women, meanwhile, withdrew from qualifying for next year’s Rio Olympics two days before last Sunday’s return match against Zimbabwe. The West Africans conceded a walkover in the first leg meeting against Zimbabwe because of a lack of funds.
In other soccer news, Nigerian coach Sunday Oliseh has invited 18 overseas-based players for next month’s qualifier against Tanzania in Dar es Salaam on September 5.
The group includes 32-year-old goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who plays for French club Lille OSC and 28-year-old forward Emmanuel Emenike who is on loan with Al-Ain in Abu Dhabi.
Enyeama, who has represented his country 101 times since 2002, is the national team captain.
In their opening group match last June, Nigeria shut out Chad 2-0.