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2023 AFCON Qualifying: Sierra Leone and Benin narrowly avoid embarrassing defeats

The international break began on Wednesday for African nations and featured two 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches that ended with surprising results. Sierra Leone supporters geared up for what was supposed to be an easy victory in Group A action but the Leone Stars fell further behind the pace for qualification with a 2-2 draw against São Tomé and Príncipe. The other match featured a Group L clash in the Beninese capital of Cotonou where Benin could only manage a 1-1 draw against Rwanda.

Without a victory in the group stage of Africa Cup of Nations qualifying since shocking Libya in 2016, little was expected of minnows São Tomé and Príncipe in Wednesday’s clash with Sierra Leone hosted by the Leone Stars in Agadir, Morocco. However, the island nation showed little resemblance to the team that fell 10-0 to Nigeria last June and took the lead in the 43rd minute when talisman Luís Leal finished from an Adjeil Neves cross.

Sierra Leone came out and dominated the start of the second half with Mustapha Bundu equalizing in the 48th minute but just when it seemed the Leone Stars had the opponents camped in their own end, Leal scored his second close to the hour mark. Substitute Abu Komeh rescued a point for Sierra Leone with his 78th minute finish but John Keister’s side remain two points back of Group A’s second placed team Guinea-Bissau and will rue a missed opportunity for three points.

In Wednesday’s other match, new head coach Gernot Rohr oversaw his first match as Benin manager but the Cheetahs struggled against a scrappy Rwanda side. 17-year-old Belgian born playmaker Hakim Sahabo made his competitive debut for Rwanda and provided a brilliant through pass to find Gilbert Mugisha, who finished into an empty net in the 13th minute after Benin goalkeeper Saturnin Allagbe saved his first effort.

Sahabo’s eventful match also had a negative moment for the Lille under-19 player after he received a second yellow card soon after the hour mark and Amavubi were down to ten players for the remainder of the match. Benin dominated and laid siege to the Rwandan goal as they desperately searched for the equalizer and their first point of the qualifying campaign. Eventually it was substitute Steve Mounié who came up with a moment of brilliance when he flicked the ball up and volleyed into the goal for an 82nd minute strike that spared the blushes of the Cheetahs.

Scores

Group A

Sierra Leone 2-2 São Tomé and Príncipe

Group L

Benin 1-1 Rwanda

Highlights

Sierra Leone 2-2 São Tomé and Príncipe

Benin 1-1 Rwanda

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