Scouting Report: Assistant Coach John Hackworth Breaks Down Sierra Leone
Preparing for our second match against Sierra Leone has been a little different compared to our first game against Korea because this time we don’t have the luxury of having played them before. The first time we got to see Sierra Leone in person was on Thursday in their match against Spain, which ended in a 3-3 tie. Despite the lack of first hand knowledge, we have also compiled numerous scouting reports from games they played in the African qualifying tournament and from their preparation matches leading up to the World Championship.
By all accounts, Sierra Leone is an excellent team with good speed and mobility, and will provide us with a tough match-up. On the field, they like to play a wide-open style, stretching the opposing defense high and wide. While most teams prefer to be more compact on defense, Sierra Leone will leave numerous players as high up the pitch as possible. They like to keep at least an equal number of players back and always play with a deep sweeper. Their confidence in playing the ball out of the back can be a weakness though, as we noticed that several times against Spain when they took unnecessary risks. In the middle of the field, they hold possession well, moving the ball around with quick one or two touches and changing the point of attack. In the attacking third, their first option is to try and beat a defender in a one-on-one situation. If going 1v1 isn't available, then they will look for combinations to penetrate into the penalty area.
Sierra Leone’s goalkeeper, Patrick Bantamoi, is solid between the posts. He made several quick reflex saves against Spain. However, his distribution is a little suspect, which may allow us to get a quick turnover if we can pressure immediately.
Sierra Leone has a number of special players that we will have to be aware of at all times. Their most dangerous player is attacking midfielder and team captain Samuel Barlay, who demonstrated his lethal striking ability against Spain with two goals. Barlay has deceptive quickness for his big frame and makes his presence felt all over the field. The team’s captain is also a great technical player, who likes to force defenders into mistakes. Another crucial player is midfielder Alimamy Sesay, who does well in support of Barlay and covers a lot of ground. He can also be dangerous as he can create havoc when he pushes forward. Up front, Obi Metzger likes to stretch the defense as high as possible and has the ability to get a quick shot on goal in a tight space.
Sierra Leone is a well-conditioned team and appears to get better as the game goes on. They tend to outwork their opponents in the later stage of a match and keep pressure on the ball until the final whistle. This was evident in a couple of games in the final qualifying round for the World Championship when they notched late game-winners.
We feel that this game will be a major contrast in styles, as we are more tactically disciplined, while Sierra Leone tries to create a more wide-open game. The keys for us will be to contain and delay their attack by not allowing them to get one-on-one match ups that they seem to desire. If we can provide good cover and balance, we will force them to either play the ball back or to the outside. Controlling their play will allow us to dictate the tempo of the game. In possession, we will need good ball movement, as they tend to follow the ball, hopefully leaving us with an open player for an opportunity to penetrate.
Even without ever matching up against Sierra Leone before, we have done a good job of preparing for their style of play. The players got a feel of what to expect last week after going up against Nigeria, who Sierra Leone beat 1-0 in the semi-finals of the final round of CAF qualifying. Now the guys just need to play.