Sierra Leone have moved to 50th place in the FIFA World Rankings and 7th in Africa - their highest ever placing (14 Aug 2014).
The Leone Stars previous highest ranking was in 1996 when they reached 51st place. By 2007 they had fallen to their lowest ranking at 172nd place.
National Coach Johnny McKinstry has been clear since taking over the reins some 18 months ago that he had two goals for 2014 - to move Sierra Leone to the top 50 in the world, and to qualify for the African Cup of Nations in 2015.
Asked about the progress Coach McKinstry said:
"Our move today to 50th in the FIFA World Rankings and 7th in Africa affirms the progress that we have made to date.
Since being appointed I have sought to develop a clear playing style, and also to expand the player pool available to the Leone Stars. We have been bold in our efforts -adopting an attacking style and giving out 13 debuts in that time. By identifying new talent we have had better access to a group of quality players who are match fit and playing regularly for their clubs. This has allowed us to improve the overall quality of the squad and to advance in the world rankings."
The move in the world rankings comes just days after the Seychelles withdrew from the return leg of their AFCON qualifier against the Leone Stars. Victory over the Seychelles in that game could have seen the Leone Stars move the mid-40s of the world rankings.
On the missed opportunity Coach McKinstry said:
"It was obviously disappointing that Seychelles chose to withdraw. We knew that after our 2-0 victory in Freetown that the Seychelles would have to abandon their defensive tactics and we believed that this would further allow us to score goals against them."
It is possible that the Leone Stars world rankings will benefit further if the Seychelles' withdrawal is taken into account in the FIFA world rankings.
While the move to the top 50 in the world has been achieved, qualification for AFCON 2015 remains a challenge - not least as Sierra Leone have been drawn in Group D, a group that has become to be known as the 'Group of Death' in that it contains Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Sierra Leone and DR Congo.
"I, the technical staff and the players are confident. Going into the Group D games we will be able to combine new talent from across the recent debuts, with more established experience - including from a number of key players who are returning from injury."
On his approach to date, and the work of the technical team, Coach McKinstry was clear:
"I continue to stress the importance of preparation in everything we do. A key element in progressing to the finals of AFCON will be consistency - and consistency will only come with time and dedication. So I am working with the SLFA and the Ministry of Sport to ensure we have the best opportunity to get the players together for sufficient time before each game so that we can prepare effectively as one team."
On what the progress to date might mean to the fans, Coach McKinstry reflected:
"We are all only too mindful of the difficult humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone at present, and the efforts being made by those in-country, and by our international partners, to combat Ebola. It is our hope that the Leone Star's recent success and our ongoing development can both give hope to Sierra Leoneans in these challenging times, and provide a positive message about Sierra Leone to the wider world."
Leone Stars Highlights
You can click any of the pictures below to see a full screen version of the picture. You can then also choose to click the play arrow to watch a slide show of all images.
For more news and pictures of Leone Stars games and training camps - visit www.johnnymckinstry.com/leonestars
Notes to Editors
- You can read more about the FIFA world Rankings, the AFCON 2015 tournament and the Leone Stars fixtures.
- Johnny McKinstry was appointed Head Coach of the Sierra Leone National Men's Football team on 11th April 2013. You can read more about his time in charge of the Leone Stars
- See www.johnnymckinstry.com for a range of information - biography, press releases and photographs for press use.