Kei Kamara scored a dramatic goal for Sierra Leone on Saturday, in his first appearance for his country in nearly a year – but it wasn’t quite enough to push the Leone Stars into the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
After Jonathan Kodjia’s spectacular bicycle kick opened the scoring, the New England Revolution striker’s glancing set-piece header drew Sierra Leone level with hosts Cote d’Ivoire in a match in Bouake to determine who would qualify out of Group I.
Kamara’s goal, his first at international level in two years, capped a lengthy exile brought on by frustrationswith his national team’s setup – and set up a tense finish, as the Leone Stars pressed for the late winner they needed to leapfrog their West African counterparts into first place.
Their rally fell short, however, ending with a Kamara shot cleared off the goal line in injury time. The 1-1 draw means that Cote d’Ivoire qualify for Gabon 2017, while Sierra Leone’s AFCON drought has now run more than two decades. The Leone Stars have not taken part in the tournament since 1996.
“We left our best on that field and can have no regrets as players,” Kamara told FootballSierraLeone.net afterwards. “Putting on those colors means everything to us. We know how much our people wanted us to succeed, but unfortunately, the draw was not enough.
“I am happy to get a goal on the board, but it wasn’t enough so I can’t focus on that solo achievement. We as a team and nation just need to prepare better for the future.”