Sierra Leone suspended as 7 days of African qualifiers start

Sierra Leone’s two matches with Ghana in African Cup of Nations qualifying have been canceled and it’s unclear if they will be re-scheduled, leaving one of the groups in disarray.

The Confederation of African Football called off Sierra Leone’s ties against Ghana set for Thursday and Monday following FIFA’s decision last week to suspend Sierra Leone’s soccer federation for political interference. But CAF didn’t say if Sierra Leone would be able to play the games later or if Ghana would be awarded victories in both games.

The decision has repercussions for all four teams in Group F, with only one point separating Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and Sierra Leone in the race to qualify for Africa’s top soccer tournament next year. The top two in each group qualify.

Whatever happens, Sierra Leone and Ghana won’t be in action during the seven straight days of qualifiers which began on Wednesday and which could go a long way to deciding who makes it to the continental championship next June and July.

The destination for the qualified teams is also in doubt because of problems in the host country Cameroon, which was awarded the tournament in 2014. Serious delays with preparations and a violent separatist insurgency in parts of the Central African country led to CAF delaying a final decision on if Cameroon will host until two more inspection visits, one this month and one next.

SIERRA LEONE’S LONG-RUNNING SAGA

The events leading to Sierra Leone’s suspension began over a year ago when federation president Isha Johansen and secretary general Chris Kamara were charged with corruption. They both deny wrongdoing and are standing trial.

But Sierra Leone authorities demanded they stand down from their roles with the federation while they face the criminal charges. After refusing to do so, they were barred from the federation headquarters last month. That constituted political interference in the running of the federation, which is prohibited by FIFA. FIFA decided last week to suspend Sierra Leone until Johansen, a CAF executive committee member, and Kamara are reinstated. FIFA denied a request from the federation on Tuesday for the suspension to be lifted in time for the Ghana games, saying conditions have not been met.

KENYA, ETHIOPIA SCORELESS

Kenya moved to the top of Sierra Leone’s group, albeit on goal difference, after a 0-0 draw with Ethiopia. That was one of two games on Wednesday with 2012 African champion Zambia beating Guinea-Bissau 2-1 in Group K in the other. That left three teams — Mozambique, Zambia and Guinea-Bissau — on four points at the top of that group. Mozambique plays bottom-placed Namibia on Saturday and is in position to qualify for the African Cup having failed to reach the last four editions.

CAMEROON’S CHAMPIONS

Cameroon’s preparations for the African Cup of Nations may be a mess off the field but its team is doing OK on it. Cameroon is the reigning African champion and was hoping to defend its title on home soil. That may not happen now but the team is top of Group B, which also contains Morocco, Malawi and Comoros. Cameroon has already qualified for 2019 as host but is playing in qualifying to keep in practice.

WATCH OUT FOR

Mohamed Salah’s Egypt is at home to Swaziland on Friday and then away on Tuesday. Salah has been in a positive mood this week, posting a video on Twitter to mark one year since he scored the injury-time penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years. Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, South Africa, Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Egypt are well-placed to qualify, as expected, but the expansion of the African Cup from 16 to 24 teams means there’s more space for surprises. Burundi, Benin, Libya, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mauritania, Mozambique and Lesotho, none of them African Cup regulars, are also in position to qualify.

Libya’s chances might be jeopardized, though, by the resignation of coach Adel Amrouche days before back-to-back games against Nigeria on Friday and Monday.