36-year-old striker Kei Kamara may have been without a club side for the past six months, but the Sierra Leone talisman etched himself into the history books by converting a 19th minute penalty kick that ended up being the difference in the Leone Stars 1-0 victory over Benin on Tuesday to seal the West African nation’s first Africa Cup of Nations appearance in over 25 years. Benin pushed and pushed as the match went on to get the equalizing goal that would clinch their qualification, but the Stade Général Lansana Conté in Conakry, Guinea was the site of dismay for Les Écureuils with their spot being snatched on the final day by Kamara’s spot kick.
The decisive moment was created by an 18th minute cross from QPR right back Osman Kakay, who whipped in a threatening ball. Kamara and Benin center back Olivier Verdon contested for the header and Verdon’s arm went up, touching the ball and causing Tunisian referee Haythem Guirat to point decisively to the penalty spot. As he has done throughout the qualification campaign, Kamara took on the leadership role and stepped up to send his spot kick past Saturnin Allagbe and Sierra Leone had the goal they needed.
Other than the occasional foray forward, Sierra Leone then held out in a defensive formation to hold onto their lead and did brilliantly to see the victory out against a Beninese attack whose struggles to score throughout their qualification efforts came back to haunt them when it mattered most. Stade Brest striker Steve Mounié was held in check and veteran substitute Mickaël Poté failed to add any additional punch to help their team find the equalizer and the Sierra Leone team celebrated with joy when the final whistle came from referee Guirat.
Highlights of the match are below and further down is a celebratory message from Sierra Leone president Julius Maada Bio as well as video of the wild scenes in the locker room after the match and jubilant celebrations from the supporters in the country.