Tottenham’s Kallum Cesay and Middlesbrough’s Kamil Conteh (currently on loan at non-league side Gateshead) are targeting a place at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) after opting to represent Sierra Leone.
Cesay and Conteh, both 20, were born in London but have links with Sierra Leone through their parents.
Indeed, Cesay’s father is a former boxer who represented Sierra Leone at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester and was one of their coaches at the 2021 World Boxing Championships in Serbia.
“I want to achieve limitless things with Sierra Leone,” the defender told BBC Sport Africa.
“I want to be at the Afcon and the World Cup.”
So far, Cesay, who plays for the Tottenham Under-23s, has made four appearances for the Leone Stars and scored twice on his international debut against Congo-Brazzaville in a 2-1 win in a friendly tournament last March.
Conteh, who has five caps, made his international debut in the same tournament, losing 3-0 to Togo.
Both played their first competitive games in Cup of Nations qualifiers against Nigeria and Guinea Bissau in June.
Cesay was an unused sub in their 2-1 loss to Nigeria in Abuja but came on as a substitute in the 2-2 draw with Guinea Bissau in Conakry, while Conteh featured in both games.
“I think we played well against Nigeria and Guinea Bissau. Maybe we haven’t got the decisions that we should have but I think we’ll be fine,” said Cesay.
Conteh has also targeted qualification for next year’s Nations Cup in Ivory Coast as a priority.
“Our next two games in the qualifiers are against Sao Tome, home and away [in March], and if we get six points then I think qualification is definitely on our side.
“But we have to take it one game at a time. We are going through a transition stage – from the likes of the older Kei Kamara and Umaru Bangura to younger players.
“The next one is the World Cup. If we can qualify for that as well that’ll just boost everything.”
The two players are particularly grateful to Leone Stars captain Steven Caulker who was also born in London but decided to switch allegiance to Sierra Leone, his paternal grandfather’s country.
Before joining the Leone Stars, Caulker, who has moved to Wigan in the English Championship, had previously played for England’s senior team in a friendly against Sweden. He also played every minute of Great Britain’s matches at the 2012 London Olympics.
Now fully committed to Sierra Leone, both Cesay and Conteh have praised Caulker’s leadership skills.
“Personally, I don’t think we could have asked for a better captain,” said Cesay.
“He’s terrific. He helps everyone in different ways, I think he’s great.
“The things he says, the way he is with different people, he knows how to deal with everyone and that makes him a good captain.”
Conteh said Caulker is someone he had watched as a young child.
“It was crazy because the time when he made his appearance for England I was watching and obviously he was also with the Great Britain Olympic squad.
“So it’s crazy that I’m playing with someone like him and someone to look up to, with lots of experience.
“He gives me advice on anything I ask him so I just keep that on board and take it away with me.”
Conteh says playing alongside Caulker has also been a learning experience on the pitch.
“He understands me, I understand him. I always try and make sure I’m ready to go and receive the ball and play.”
Caulker, who came through the ranks at Spurs, told BBC Sport Africa he can relate to the young duo.
“I was a youngster myself at Tottenham and I was with the England national team at the age of 19 and 20, so it’s quite nice to obviously be able to share that experience with them – to just keep them humble, keep them patient.
“The boys are hungry to play, I love that part of our squad. They bring fresh legs and desire.
“I love the way we are heading as a country, taking younger players and building them up. I think it’s great, it’s only going to get better.”