Bangura: Leone Stars have enough quality
Sierra Leone are good enough to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, according to captain Umaru Bangura.
The Leone Stars have not been seen at African football's flagship tournament since the 1996 finals in South Africa.
But Bangura is confident they have enough quality to emerge from a group that includes four-time champions Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia.
They kicked off their campaign for the 2019 edition with a 2-1 win over the Harambee Stars and lie second on the table behind the Black Stars on goal difference.
"I'm confident that with good preparation we'll qualify for the Afcon finals," said Bangura who plays for Swiss club FC Zurich.
The 29-year-old defender added: "We don't want any late preparations.
"We want players to be available at the right time for early training and play friendly matches against top-class African teams.
"I'm calling on the Sierra Leone FA and sports ministry to prepare us well for the remaining fixtures."
Bangura will go into the Leone Stars' next match against Ethiopia buoyed by a Presidential medal he received recently for services to the national team.
The honour, bestowed upon him by President Ernest Bai Koroma, saw Bangura join a small group that includes the legendary Mohamed Kallon and the country's longest serving captain Umaru Deen Sesay.
Asked if he saw the medal as a source of inspiration in the future, Bangura said: "Yes, it's a great honour to receive such a medal from the Head of State and this will inspire me to fight harder to qualify for the next Afcon finals.
"I'd like to be the captain that leads Leone Stars back to the Afcon finals after an absence of over two decades."
Bangura who helped FC Zurich gain promotion to the Swiss top flight last month, said the Leone Stars are a better team than they have been made out to be and would prove difficult opponents for the teams in Group F.
But he said the team's progress depends on a harmonious relationship between the Sierra Leone FA and the sports ministry.
"I'm pleading with both the SLFA and sports ministry to maintain peace between them as that will help us a lot.
"We've suffered in the past [because of quarrels between the two bodies] and don't want a repeat of it," said Bangura, who made his Leone Stars debut against Mali in 2006 before taking over as skipper eight years later.