While an initial glance at the history books will show that Sierra Leone have never participated at a FIFA World Cup™ at full international level, dig a little deeper and an appearance on the global stage at youth level does stand out.
That maiden outing arrived at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Finland 2003. "It was great to play there and to test ourselves against other teams," Umaru Bangura recalled in an interview with FIFA.com. "It was important for our players' development. When we qualified for the World Cup, everyone celebrated - and not just us players but the entire country."
Living in hope
The Africans may have packed their bags for home after the group stage, but a 3-3 draw against eventual runners-up Spain, who had Cesc Fabregas among others in their squad, justifiably gave cause for optimism. It was defeats by scores of 2-1 and 3-2 to USA and Korea Republic respectively that spelled the end for the Leone Stars.
"We played well at the tournament and went home with our heads held high," said Bangura, who played every minute of all three matches at the competition. "I hope to be able to experience something like that again."
Despite some disappointing performances during 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil qualifying, such hopes are well-founded. Sierra Leone are currently second in the African Zone qualifying Group B table, five points behind pacesetters Tunisia.
"If we hadn't lost the last game in Tunisia 2-1 we'd be much closer to them," Bangura told FIFA.com. "In June we go head-to-head with them again and that'll be decisive. If we win, we'll only be two points behind. That's doable and we'd still have a chance of reaching the World Cup."
The prospect of playing at a senior FIFA World Cup remains the ultimate objective. "It would be a historic achievement, not just for me or the other national team players, but for the whole country. We're giving everything to make it happen. Qualifying for this World Cup would be a dream come true. It would be the best thing our country has ever experienced.
"The situation in Sierra Leone is very complicated, which makes it difficult to play football there," Bangura continued, turning to the circumstances created by the civil war currently afflicting his homeland. "That said, football is still hugely important."
Born in Freetown, the self-confessed Barcelona and Lionel Messi fan left western Africa immediately after the FIFA U-17 World Cup and arrived in England. However, Bangura struggled to settle there and moved to Norway, eventually joining FK Haugesund after four years at Honefoss BK.
The team's stated objective of a top-five finish in the domestic league appears to be achievable after a promising start to the new season. Ten points from the first six games have left the club in seventh, a return Bangura believes the side "can be satisfied with".
Nevertheless, Bangura could be forgiven for letting his thoughts wander to the forthcoming crunch match against Tunisia on 7 June in Freetown's National Stadium, where there are positive omens for the hosts. The game will kick off exactly five years to the day since Sierra Leone's last defeat on home soil, a 1-0 loss to Nigeria in which Bangura also played.
The Leone Stars have remained unbeaten in front of their own fans ever since and they have no intention of relinquishing that record against four-time FIFA World Cup participants Tunisia. ShouldSierra Leone take maximum points from the encounter and also secure a berth at Brazil 2014, the next entry in the 'international' section of the country's footballing annals can be written, and once again Bangura will be at the forefront.