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The road to World Cup 2014 started in style at Freetown’s National Stadium on Saturday. The Leone Stars’ Mohamed Kamara opened the scoring direct from a corner in the tenth minute, with Sherif Suma’s stunning overhead kick, fifteen minutes later, enough to hand the Leone Stars all three points in their opening game of Group B match against Cape Verde.

Missing Mustapha “Hadji” Bangura, Gibrilla Woobay and AC Milan’s Rodney Strasser, Sierra Leone coach, Lars Olfo Mattsson, shifted from his usual 4-4-2 into a compact 4-2-3-1. Celtic’s Mohamed Bangura was moved out to the left flank, Sporting Kansas City’s Kai Kamara was deployed on the right and Alhassan Kamara operated just off lead striker Ibrahim “Teteh” Bangura.

Cape Verde coach, Lucio Antunes, was equally cautious in his approach with Amando Walder sitting in-front of the Cape Verde back line, flanked either side by Santos Stenio and the influential Maced Elvis in a 4-5-1.

(See the two line-ups below)

Route one approach

The game was fundamentally won in the opening twenty five minutes, due in part to the dominant display of Partizan Belgrade’s Alhassan Kamara against the Blue Sharks’ holding midfielder Amando Walder.

The state of Freetown’s National Stadium pitch was, to put in mildly, terrible. A patchy, sand riddled surface greeted both sides and undoubtedly influenced the tactical approach adopted by both coaches. A short passing game was not an option, so both sides went for a more direct approach. Either: 1) launching early passes up to lone strikers to head balls down or through for midfielder runners from deep, or 2) lofted balls beyond the opposition defenses for the lone strikers and inverted wingers to chase down.

Crucial to defending the long ball is that the holding midfielder, in this case Amando Walder, is aware of the second phase ball. The player must mark runners from deep central midfield and denying them space and time on the ball, as Walder did against Alhassan Kamara.

Both of Sierra Leone’s goals were scored from corners that resulted from Alhassan Kamara being given time and space in-front of the Cape Verde defensive line, after a second phase knock down from Teteh Bangura.

(See the diagram below showing the space Amando Walder allowed Alhassan Kamara on the second phase)

The goals themselves were individual moments of brilliance. Mohamed Kamara curled in a dipping corner that evaded Sores Ernesto in the Cape Verde goal to open the scoring. The Blue Sharks goalkeeper certainly wasn’t the sharpest in shuttling back along his goal line as he made a feeble and unsuccessful attempt to stop Kamara’s surprising ‘shot’.

Ernesto could do little to stop Sierra Leone’s second goal. A short corner by Mohamed Kamara and Kai Kamara was poorly headed away by central defender Varela Fernando and as it drifted over the shoulder of Sharif Suma the left back acrobatically bicycle kicked the ball beyond the reaches of the sprawling Ernesto.

Disassociation of the defensive and attacking units 

One of the most surprising aspects of the Sierra Leone tactical approach was how little the  defensive units associated with forward lines. Mohamed Kamara and Sam Barley were given limited attacking freedom and rarely moved more than fifteen yards away from Kargbo and Koroma. The Leone Stars full backs, Umaru Bangura and Sharif Suma never once overlapped the wingers and only ever provided a pass-back option. This clearly defined defensive setup denied Cape Verde time and space, from second phase knock-downs in-front of the back four and limited Cape Verde to fleeting opportunities throughout the game.

(See the diagram below showing the lack of association between defensive and attacking units, and limited forward movement by the full backs and two DMC’s)

Sierra Leone stifling central areas

With a 2-0 lead at half time, Lars Olfo Mattsson, saw it fit to shift Alhissan Kamara into a deeper central midfield role and pull back Mohamed Bangura and Kai Kamara’s starting positions, switching to solid 4-5-1.

The move was made to further stiffle central areas, infront of the Sierra Leone defence, and make it difficult for Andrade Jose and Maced Elvis to challenge for long balls from defence and also receive the ball into feet.

Desipte a 93rd minute howler from Caulker, that gifted Cape Verde a consilation goal, Sierra Leone were defensively disciplined and threatened well on the break. The attacking stratagy wasn’t particularly innovative, but it was effective for the conditions at Freetown’s National Stadium. As this performance shows they could certainly be a difficult side to beat at home in the upcoming World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers.