Soccer-Sierra Leone end long wait for Africa Cup of Nations finals berth

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(Reuters) - Striker Kei Kamara scored a first half penalty as Sierra Leone sealed a berth at the Africa Cup of Nations tournament for the first time since 1996, following a 1-0 victory over Benin in their twice-postponed qualifier in neutral Conakry on Tuesday.

Kamara slotted in the spot-kick after 19 minutes and the Leone Stars then were forced to weather waves of Benin attacks, but were able to hold on for a historic victory and earn a place in the 24-team continental finals scheduled for Cameroon early next year.

Sierra Leone needed victory to move above Benin, who had required just a point to seal second place behind group winners Nigeria.

The final fixture in the pool was originally scheduled for Freetown on March 30, but was postponed after Benin refused to play having been told 90 minutes before kick-off that five of their players had tested positive for COVID-19.

The Confederation of African Football postponed the game to yesterday in Guinea, but just before kick off, it was the Leone Stars’ turn to launch a vehement protest after they were told six players and two members of their technical team had tested positive.

They demanded the match be postponed again to Tuesday and the tests done again, and after all eight individuals returned negative results the match finally went ahead.

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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