That feeling of
playing and supporting a nation so dear to one's heart with great emotions has
been tested by Gambians when the Scorpions made a maiden AFCON appearance in
Cameroon. A population of about two million is eager for similar excitement as
the Scorpions set to renew their commitment with both eyes fixed on a return to
the Africa Cup of Nations.
Preparations for the 2023 qualifiers have reached the climax with a venue for the Gambia's first game being identified, the squad being named and a training camp organised for the team. Gambia's squad for the game against South Sudan and Congo is already in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where they are invited for a test game against the UAE. A game that ended 1 - 1 as Musa Barrow scored an equaliser for the visitors in the second half. The Scorpions used it as a preparatory camp before they fly to Senegal to play South Sudan on 4th June and Congo on June 8th in Brazzaville.
This could be a usual campaign for the players, but not the supporters who will have to miss the home games of their team for now. Hopes are high that this could well be another successful qualifier for the Scorpions who promised the nation a return to the AFCON.
And Tom certainly had the personnel that can fulfill that promise. Sulayman Marreh as the brilliant creative quarterback, the fulcrum the entire offensive unit revolves around, the excellent all-round game of his central midfield alter-ego Ebou Adams, the subtlety on the ball and superb movements in the hole of Musa Barrow with his powerful drives, the outstanding Yusupha Bobb with his delicate touch and visionary movements, the work ethics of striker Assan Ceesay and the complementary wing threat: the more fluid running and ball skills of Ablie Jallow and the forcefulness of Ebrima Colley coupled with so much quality like the master class displays of the midfield maestro Hamza Barry and the dazzling moves of the unstoppable Steve Trawally, the Scorpions could be up for another history-making campaign.
During the 2021 AFCON, Tom and his team were widely tipped to be heading for a Cameroonian fall after poor pretournament preparation – not only did a young and relatively inexperienced squad defy the odds to reach the AFCON Quarterfinals in their maiden appearance, they achieved it with commitment, dash, and ingenuity. This could be another glittering campaign.
The Squad For Sudan & Congo Games:
Gambia's coach Tom Saintfiet's style of player selection always allows his critics to load their ammunition and fire at him. The narrative stay as usual after the coach named his squad for the Sudan game. It appears as if the coach is now so accustomed to criticism.
The Belgian invited 25 players that excluding some notable names some of who were instrumental during the AFCON in Cameroon. Explaining his reasons, Tom said those players are either injured or demanded to be excused for the first two games.
According to Tom in an interview with AfriRadio, Steve Trawallly, Saidy Janko, Ebou Adams, and Noah Sonko Sundberg all requested to be left out, while Ebrima Colley and Ali Sowe are said to be injured and Hamza Barry who was included is said to miss the first two games due to passport issue. The Scorpions further went on to lose two players Modou Secka Barrow and Dembo Darboe to injury, they are replaced with Nuha Marong and Bun Sanneh (the only home-based player).
So long as it may be agreed that so much quality is lost by missing those players, it can equally be agreed that there is some much quality on the list to bank on. With the return of Ablie Jallow, added to, Musa Barrow and Assan Ceesay who is in red hot form. Rocky centre-backs in Omar Colley and James Gomez and dynamic midfielders like Sulayman Marreh, Ebrima Darbo, and Yusupha Bobb can all help Tom have it his way against Sudan as the players have a greater understanding of the Belgian pragmatic tactical approaches.
This generation of the Scorpions supporters is faced with something unusual as both FIFA and CAF agreed that The Gambia doesn't have the infrastructure that is fit for purpose, as such they've been banned from hosting international matches. This forced the Gambia Football Federation to negotiate with Senegal for The Gambia to host their home games. That massive crowd might not be seen when the Scorpions play, even though some economically strong supporters will still travel and GFF will be able to generate some little income from the little tickets they will sell.
A massive loss for the country morally and economically, but this might not affect the performance of the team as demonstrated in their previous ties outside like against Algeria, DR Congo, and Angola where the Scorpions showed outstanding displays without their supporters.
Most of the Scorpions players have enjoyed some fortune with their clubs and hopes are high that they can carry along the same luck to the Scorpions camp and make their campaign a fortunate one.
The Scorpions are drawn in the same group as Congo, Mali, and South Sudan, which is not a more so difficult group judging by the recent form and achievement of the three teams. Scorpions could be buoyed by the recent underachievement of their opponents and build on that.
South Sudan who were admitted into CAF as recently as 2012, never qualify in their attempts in 2015 and 2021. Congo who last played the AFCON in 2015 where they finished as a quarterfinalist, were hit with misfortune since then and they were unable to qualify for the past three editions.
Mali the most consistent side in the group in terms of appearance since 2008 played in all the editions since then but the far they could go in the past two editions was a Round of 16 finish. This indicates that the Scorpions who finished as quarterfinalists in the last edition in Cameroon have had a more recent success than their opponents. Analytically, their chances of advancing from this group are high.
The Young Scorpions of the Gambia ripped South Sudan into pieces to reach the U-20 AFCON semifinals and qualify for the May 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Crossing the quarterfinals stage was the 'primary target' of the young scorpions and they achieved it in the wildest fashion, effortlessly thrashing the Bright Stars of South Sudan 5 - 0. The result means the Young Scorpions will now take on Nigeria in the semifinals on Monday 6th March and equally, they will serve as one of Africa's representatives in the 2023 FIFA U-20 world cup which will take place in Indonesia. BEGINNING OF THE MISERY!Gambia's Adama Bojang failed to score at the group stages but this was purely his show. He ended his goal drought just after 7 minutes when he controlled Alagie Saine's long pass and fired past the Sudan goalkeeper Godwill Simon, to signal the misery that awaits South Sudan.Moses Jarju then glanced home a free header after a fine corner from Salifu Colley and Kajally Drammeh embarrassed the Sudan left-back before squaring a pass to Adama Bojang who rolled into an unguarded net for his second and the Gambia's third goal. At that moment, South Sudan who were largely bystanders, uncharacteristically pedestrians, only showed panic and their body language started to bellow surrender. But they were not still able to minimize the damage as the Gambia added two further goals. Steve Biko's starlet Adama Bojang who is the first player to have scored a hat-trick in the 2023 Gambia Football Federation First Division League, ultimately found his scoring boots as he fired home to complete a hat trick after the rushing Sudan goalkeeper misjudged actions at the edge of the box.4 - 0, it was game over already but the young scorpions appeared as if they did not have South Sudan where they wanted them. They keep pressing and Mahmud Bajo intentionally deflected Muhammed Sawaneh’s shot to beat the Sudan goalkeeper Godwill Simon and rounded up a comprehensive 5 – 0 win for The Gambia. The Young Scorpions did not only prove their attacking strength which could greatly be credited to coach Abdoulie Bojang's decision of handing Modou Lamin Marong and Salifu Colley both attack-minded players a start but equally their defensive cohesion as they are yet to concede a goal. So long Sudan could be considered as a weak opposition, is one thing, but the all-around ability of this Gambia side is one thing not to lose sight of, and scoring five goals in a quarter-final game, could certainly send worrying signals to the next opponents.
The outstanding unbeaten dominance shown by the defending champions Gunjur could have only been complemented by adding a super cup title, but those dreams were left in ruins, as Brikama thrashed them 3 - 0 in the Super Cup of the West Coast Region Zonal Championship to put an end to their dominance, at a jam-packed Boxbar mini-stadium.Gunjur made a bright start and forced Brikama into conceding a penalty within two minutes as Brikama's goalkeeper Ebrima Fadera was penalised for a foul on Babucarr Bojang, but the goalkeeper make amends for his error to save Babucarr Bojang's penalty and also a follow-up strike. Brikama then opened the scoring from the resulting attack as the prolific Saikou Ceesay poked home a rebound after the Gunjur custodian Ousman Touray parried a cross to his path. In their efforts to restore parity before the break, Gunjur's Baba Colley had a header ricochet the crossbar and Celestin Jatta also had a goal-bound header, headed out by a Brikama defender on the goal line as Brikama headed into the interval with a slender advantage. Whatever Brikama was told during the halftime team talk, was executed by the players as they add to their lead within a minute after the restart - when diminutive Bubacarr Sanneh fired home a screamer to draw wild celebrations from the home crowd. Even with that 2 - 0 lead, it appears Brikama did not have Gunjur their way, and they duly added a third goal to brush aside any hopes of a Gunjur comeback. It was the diminutive Babucarr Sanneh again who orchestrated a destructive Brikama attack down the right where he exchanged passes before sneaking into the box to fire a shot out of the reach of the rushing Gunjur goalkeeper for his second goal, and Brikama's third. That sealed a comfortable 3 - 0 win over the champions Gunjur, much to the disbelief of their traveling supporters and to the delight of home supporters. The 'our land our cup' chants before and during the game by the Brikama supporters, ultimately turned into reality as Brikama clinched the super cup to serve notice to the rest of the teams about their title ambitions.Up against a gritty and physically powerful side, Gunjur were not just beaten, they were torn apart, ripped to pieces by a Brikama side blend with young talented, and experienced players. Whether Brikama will be able to show a performance like this in their away fixtures, is a question for another day, but, they have shown it in front of their home supporters in this Super Cup, against a side they have not beaten in their last four meetings, only managing a single draw. Brikama did not deserve to be in the Super Cup after finishing 4th in last season's campaign, but they deserve this victory against Gunjur. They were selected to play in the Super Cup after the runners Sanyang confirm their participation lately and Brikama took advantage of the rare opportunity coupled with home support to inflict heavy revenge on Gunjur, a side that thrashed them 6 - 2 on aggregate in the semi-finals en route to this stage. If the performance of Gunjur last season make people believe that a title defense is a possibility for the Kombo South giants, this scoreline against a purposeful Brikama side will cast doubts over those beliefs.
There has never been a heated build-up to a Gambia Football Federation election like the country is witnessing, and that credit must be given to Sadibou Kamaso who stands boldly out of the many football lovers to oppose a man once his God Father – Lamin Kaba Bajo.With the election finally on the horizon, the campaigning atmosphere has been tense, from the Greater Banjul Area to the Regions as Kaba and Kamaso continue to canvas for votes. But who is who?That has been the widely raised question, and whether they are both competent or not. At the end of it all, it must be either Kaba or Kamaso that will administer the country’s football for the next four years.The fact that many stakeholders are not openly taking sides makes it difficult for one to conclude who is the likeliest candidate to sweep the pool.THE WEAKNESSBoth Kaba and Kamaso have previously served in the GFF executive and one will expect them to have an idea as to how the game should be administered. The duo like any other football administrator must have a weakness and their campaigns are widely centered on what has gone wrong for either of them.With Kaba hitting Kamaso on the missing money under kamaso’s watch in Morocco, Kamaso has equally been lambasting Kaba on the missing GFF millions and for failing on his promises. Campaigning against someone who knows your weakness, could be a challenge for anyone, and that has been one major weakness for Kaba and as such he dodged all face-to-face encounters with Kamaso.MANIFESTING BRAVERY Whether it was a sharp tongue, the desire for a position, or an interest in the development of the game, whatever the case, Sadibou has clearly manifested bravery in his campaigning by appearing in a live televised debate to talk about his policies and how he intends to ‘restore the confidence he has been campaigning on. Sadibou Kamaso has shown readiness to appear on any TV or Radio program irrespective of how tough he thinks it will be for him.Whether it was evasive or a strategy, the GFF incumbent failed to take on his challenger face-on at any given opportunity. At his campaign team’s behest, Lamin Kaba Bajo declined the invitation for a first-ever live televised football debate and all other live television programs where Sadibu had accepted to appear.Kamaso capitalised on the absence of the incumbent and sold his idea to the football world, perhaps in a more honest and open setting, which could have been a major turning point for his bid to control "Football house".In all honesty, it was a missed opportunity for Kaba to sell his new agenda, defend his record in office and dismiss all allegations of mismanagement against his administration. His absence did not help the lost confidence that Sadibu is saying he wants to restore, particularly among the general public.DECISION MAKERS Now the country’s football future squarely lies in the hands of the decision makers – Stakeholders. Will go with Kaba’s team of ‘Continuity’ or Kamaso’s ‘Restore Confidence’ team? Whatever decision they make, must be in the interest of football development. Some represent clubs and some communities of close to 30, 000 people, and others, entire Regions.The stakeholders are in the nick of things, they are witnesses to football development and pitfalls in the country. The decision they make will have implications not only on the close circuit of stakeholders but on the entire nation. The outcome of the 27th of August election is what the country has to deal with for the next four years. That decision must not be one that will warrant one to seek forgiveness for taking the wrong decision.
This was not the dream at the start of the season, but ultimately Hawks a football team with a development mindset betrayed their ideology for good, and registered a success that even the bookies and pundits were not foreseeing. They end their long wait for a Gambia Football Federation [GFF] First Division League title as they become the 2022 GFF League Champions, the first time since they last won it in 1996.Hawks have recorded 19 wins, 5 draws, and 6 defeats in their 30 league games - scoring 38 goals and conceding just 17 in the process.This was the third time Hawks laid their hands on the coveted trophy, having previously won it in 1993 and 1996. The intervals between the second and the third is long but Hawks can brag and claim that they end their title drought when they were not fully prepared for it.As League Champions, Hawks received a check for 750, 000 Gambian Dalasi, while first runners up Real De Banjul received GMD300, 000 and second runners Steve Biko FC pockets GMD150, 000. Before the start of the season, if any pundit should consider Hawks in the top five teams as title contenders, might receive a mockery of a lifetime. With the then defending champions Fortune FC in a red hot form, Wallidan F.C the big spenders who strengthened their squad with talent and experience and even had a training camp in Saudi Arabia where they might have prayed so hard for God to grant them the title that has recently been elusive. Real De Banjul showing how much desperate they are for the title changing coaches like how a preseason team makes substitutions, Brikama United from a highly demanding community, reshuffle their technical set-up and add more quality to their squad in their pursuit, plus the institutional team's [GAF, GPA & Gamtel] with strong financial and moral backing, were largely the bookies favourite at the beginning.But something changed along the line and Hawks capitalised."I have never been tasked to win the title this season, during the cause of the league we see how teams are performing and we think we can fight for the league and collectively we achieved what we believe" Alieu Jagne the Hawks coach said. Whether it was a plan or a gamble, Hawks can never be looked at as a lucky winner, they laboured so hard for their success. Continuously improving in their standings as the league progress. Since they took over the top spot from Brikama United and Real De Banjul, they never surrendered it, showing how consistent they were. But forget about consistency, Hawks a side full of young energetic players with perhaps a single journeyman in Mass Manga who has even been a rock-solid for them at the back, are as energetic as one might imagine. Hardly will they surrender ball possession to any opposition, making it virtually impossible for any team to register success against them, which is justified by the six defeats they registered throughout the season in the league. They played in a way so endeared to any spectator, close controls, slick and incisive movements and a lethal attacking force are what they relied heavily on to punish their opponents. As in the case of their final league game against Team Rhino when they keep stitching passes together until in the 82nd minute when they realised their opponents were running with tired legs that captain Omar Sarr who came on as a substitute, scored the only goal to wrap up what was already a delightful season.Who will expect Hawks not to produce a solid team like this when they have one of the best technically minded individuals in Sang Ndong in their midst who could be one of the people who reserve the bragging rights to associate himself with the Gambia National Team's success in Cameroon. His 'Rebuilding and Rebranding' idea works so right for the Scorpions and Hawks are in the same rebuilding process, even though they did not start setting a target but the strategy starts to yield results.If there is one thing that went right above all others it is Hawks' commitment to a footballing style which was dazzling and devastatingly effective. Possession of the ball was shown not only to be a means to scoring goals but, even more importantly, a means to preventing them too, a way of controlling the game. It is debatable if any team maintains possession like Hawks, as many big teams found out to their cost when they tried matching Hawks' flair. Possession football can be a defensive tactic as much as an offensive one.Hawks' choice of path to the crown never wavered, even when some said it had. And in the end, it proved the right one to take. Hawks have long considered their football the most artistic. And they might not be wrong, it has proven the most effective too this season
A promise by the Gambia Football Federation [GFF] that was supposed to last for months but took almost two years, was ultimately fulfilled as the GFF deliver its promise to change the turf in Brikama and Banjul mini stadiums. For these footballing communities, this was long overdue and ultimately they smiled as football is on the verge of returning home. The two communities have endured the agony of playing home games away, a lack of "Nawettan" - Summer Championship, and a complete loss of revenue which greatly hampered the growth of the games in the area. Now that there is hope on the horizon, this can bring along relief not only for Brikama and Banjul but for the many teams who can use the ground to play their league games. And even the pickpocketers within Brikama will rejoice that crowding will soon star at the popular arena, for them an opportunity to practice their defacto profession. I had a personal experience with them, when they stole my only D200 from my pocket around 2012 when Brikama play Esperance Sportive De Tunis, I was nearly left stranded as that was supposed to be my fare back home - laugh. Indications are there that the delay is now history as the scotching of the synthetic artificial turf in both Brikama and Banjul nears completion, while the expansion of dressing rooms and the stands and also the construction of spectators' toilets are also ongoing. BUT WHAT HAS BEEN RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DELAY? We tried to independently find out from Bakary K. Jammeh the project manager of the GFF but our efforts were futile. As per the information we received from Sports Administrators from both Brikama and Banjul was a "lack of funds". Logically, that's right. If the Federation has not mismanaged the funds for the projects or diverted them to somewhere else, the story of these grounds would have been different. Reports indicate that the money spent on the project is from the AFCON bonuses recently given to the Gambia by CAF. Whatever the case, the refurbishment of the two grounds is delayed but not denied.
BOTTROP AND SCANAID CRIES, BAKOTEH LAUGH AND LK SABIJI PROVES UNMATCHED IN SCHOOL ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIPThe unexpected last-ditch catastrophe that struck the defending champions Bottrop Technical Senior Secondary School and Scanaid, turned out to be a blessing for Bakoteh Upper and Senior Secondary School. Bakoteh had the last laugh and clinched their first title in School Athletics Championship and Latrikunda Sabiji proved unmatched and makes it six titles in a row in the Upper Basic category. Indications were there that Bottrop would have defended their title considering their strength or Scanaid Senior School would clinch the title as they defeated Bakoteh to clinch the Region one title. Bakoteh couldn’t have hoped for anything better than Bottrop and Scanaid’s suspension as they [Bakoteh] secured the crown at the expense of the rest with the 100-thousand-dalasi prize money and winners medal. Analysts have boldly stated before the championship that at the Upper Basic School level, the title was for Latrikunda and it turned just that way as they retain their title with an unmatched performance that saw them amass 398 points. Other Schools might claim they tried enough, but their efforts were not enough to stop Bakoteh and Latrikunda. Charles Jow and Saint Michael finished second and third respectively and pocketed 50 and 25 thousand dalasi. At the Upper Basic School category, Barra-Essau finished as runners-up with 25 thousand price money and Brikama U.B.S as the second runners-up received 15 thousand dalasis. If Bottrop and Scanaid had not shed tears of despair, Bakoteh wouldn’t have shed tears of joy. Whether they will win it again or not, Bakoteh are the legitimate champions for the 2022 National Inter-Schools Athletics Championship. BOMBSHELL: There has never been a shock in the championship than we saw with just three days to the competition. The organisers dropped a bombshell that left the affected schools shedding tears. Bottrop, Mahaad, Scanaid, Nusrat, Mingdaw among other schools were suspended from participating for using ineligible athletes during the regional championship. This was a shock for the entire athletics family, such a bold decision came as a surprise, but school authorities say it was aimed to “sanitize” the championship. UNMATCHED PERFORMANCE: Winning an athletics title will require energy, consistency and athleticism. That was what the winners combined to display an unmatched performance which saw them secure the titles with the widest of point difference. For Latrikunda Sabiji it was an easy ride in virtually all the events. If one thinks they are at their worst, that is when they finished second in the race. LK put together a formidable sprint and middle-distance team that scooped almost all the events as they amassed 398 points, 206 points more than second-place Barra-Essau who secured 192 points. A lucky performance can't earn one such incredible points. Latrikunda were simply irresistible. In the senior category, Bakoteh were equally above the rest. Their male team sometimes will have to negotiate their way in some events and miss some. For the girls, it was a clear victory all through, from the 100m, 200m, 1,500m, 300, 4x400, and Medley relay. Binta Jallow and co were just no match to the rest. This was justified by the 365 points they secured, leaving a gap of 181 points from second place Charles Jow who recorded 184 points. OUTSTANDING ATHLETES: The School Athletics always unravel bright potentials in athletics and the 2022 edition has seen an increase even though some previous performers have stayed defiant in their various events. With some bullet-like movements, Sitta Jarju, Isatou Gibba, Halimatou Saho all of Latrikunda Sabiji UBS were simply not at the same level as the rest of the girls in the sprint events as they emerged first anytime they stood on the tracks. In the middle-distance events, Mariama Barry of LK Sabiji proved energetic to win the 3000m girls open, while Sarjo Badjie of Arrangallen was the most energetic as he scooped the goal medal in the 5000m open boys. Musa Kujabi of WYCE Upper Basic School was one of the fastest sprinters in the boy’s category, finishing first in the U-15 boys' category. At the senior school category, the girls of Bakoteh [Binta Jallow and Mariama Camara] were simply the best, the only position they settled for was the first position. If you think Bakoteh are only good at sprinting, wait for their middle-distance team. Safiatou Sanneh of Bakoteh Upper and Senior was the most energetic female athlete. She finished first in the 1,500m and 3,000m open girls respectively. Essau’s Amadou Sowe had the first laugh as he clinch the first gold medal at the National Championship winning both the 5,000m and 1,500m open boys for senior school. For some students, this was their final season, but for some, they will have to return to see if they can defend their crowns in the next championship. CHALLENGES: School sports might have been doing well, but the nation is not doing enough in developing the talents it has been and still producing. One might brag about Gina Bass for passing through school sports, but the gap between her and the rest of the athletes produced by the schools is immeasurable. The challenge has been and remains the platform for developing young talents. “Our work stops at producing athletes for the Gambia Athletics Association [GAA], but they’ve not been doing enough. For athletics to develop in the country, there should be proper structures in the country if we are truly serious about developing athletics.” Ismaila Ceesay the President of Secondary School Sports said. The gap between Region one and the rest of the Regions remains the same as the country’s only track for athletics is situated in region one. This could be considered as a total injustice for a Nation whose most outstanding athletes are usually drawn from the rest of the regions. When are the authorities going to show real commitment in addressing the persistent challenge? PLANS AHEAD: “This is what we can do, to produce talents for the Athletics Association”, were the remarks of Ismaila Ceesay the President of Secondary School Sports Association. In as much as that might be right, school authorities might also be hold accountable for not putting up enough strategies for the athletes they reserve the bragging rights over. As if they were told that they need to do more, the Secondary School Sports Association said they are coming up with another competition – Regional Championship which will bring together school-going athletes representing various regions in the National Regional School Championship. But what next after their academic careers, perhaps a question for GAA to answer. This could be another competition for the nation to scout real raw potentials for better and much-needed representation at the international level. It will be a tragedy to see the talents of these school going students end after their grade 12. With the suspended schools set to return with ‘unstoppable force’ that means more queens and kings on the tracks in the next edition and justice will be served if realistic advances are put in place to help the passionate athletes develop themselves at the end of their school careers.
Kinshasa, a city of nearly 20 million inhabitants, one man from The Gambia is making a difference. Bouna Batchilly, a native of Garawol who arrived in the DRC nearly 30 years ago to search for greener pastures was moved by the plight of children in this huge and bustling city. Bouna singlehandedly adopted over 500 abandoned children and orphans, through his foundation, giving them hope and a future.Many of them have now traveled to Europe, the US and Middle East. For him giving back to a country that gave him so much gives him great personal satisfaction. As he beams with happiness and satisfaction, Bouna believes every child deserves an opportunity to realise their potential. Nearly 30 years running the foundation, Bouna has won praise from several humanitarian organisations and embassies in Kinshasa who often render help. There are currently more than 30 children living with him, cared for by his wife and staff employed by the foundation. His efforts have drawn admiration from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Gambians Abroad Dr Mamadou Tangara who visited the orphanage accompanied by the Secretary General and head of the civil service Noah Touray and the Honorary Consul Ansumana Tunkara. Bouna is also the President of the Gambia Association in Kinshasa, working with likeminded Gambians to promote the interests and welfare of the community in Congo. His wish is to leave a legacy in the Congo, and believes that Gambians wherever they are exhibit that humane spirit of love, care and solidarity.
It was on January 12th 2022 that Africa welcomed a tiny country to the Africa cup of nations. This was a boast long overdue for a country that spent over half a century fighting for such a moment. Historically, Gambia's national anthem was sung for the first time in the AFCON when they stood up in the lineup in their opening group game against Mauritania.Emotional moment for the players and supporters some of whom were shedding tears as they sang along the anthem. Perhaps the Gambia's most-watched game in history, from the President of the Republic down under, many sat before television sets to watch a Scorpion maiden AFCON appearance with immense joy.The wait for such a moment is now history. Scorpions played five games, won three, drew one, lost one and exited at the quarterfinals, a truly historic achievement for a nation making its first AFCON appearance. For so long the game’s greatest underachievers at the grandest stage, could now consider themselves as overachievers. And whatever way, history will forever remember The Gambia for their achievements in the first AFCON berth.Remarkable start:Given the pre-tournament COVID cases and the poor preparations as all their preparatory test matches were all cancelled during their pre-tournament training camp, the Gambia came into the AFCON in almost total disarray and morale was at an all-time low.What better way, then, to give the team and the nation a much-needed boost than to pick up the victory. The Gambia marked their presence in the continental showpiece with an emphatic one-nil win over Mauritania as Abdoulie Jallow became the first Gambian player to score in the AFCON when he fired home an astonishing strike. This was the turning point for a once demoralised side.Boring but justified strategyAfter reaching the round of 16, Gambia's coach Tom Saintfiet may claim his boring tactical approaches to the games, a justified strategy, despite the criticisms, hence the Belgian stayed resolute on his approaches.Under Tom, gone are the days when the Gambia played dazzling football, adored by the games true romantics, only to realise that it leads to nothing but failed campaigns. For Tom, results mean everything and winning ugly is not considered a shame.For the Belgian, focus has become the new magic word in the Gambia's camp.Focus on the approach, focus on the opponents, focus on your own performance, focus on the ultimate goal (safety first), focus on the forthcoming game.Since his appointment in 2018, Tom told his disciples that they were on a mission. The journeyman was clear about what he wanted from his players. In return, he gave the players his full confidence, even when they were out of form as in the case of players without clubs but still included in the squad.Tom was not willing to sell out his defensive approach for any critic, he applied it and earned a one-all draw against Mali in the second game. Even before the final group games were played, the Gambia was already confirmed to have qualified for the Round of 16. Yet, Tom appeared as if he doesn't have it his way, he put his defensive tactics into practice against Tunisia and earned a one-nil win to finish level on points with Mali who top the group on goal difference. This was perhaps the most shocking moment for Tunisia, losing or finishing behind not only debutants but one of the 12 lowest-ranked nations. The Scorpions sails through to the Round of 16.The unthinkable unfoldsProgressing beyond the group phase was not just surprising but shocking to the continent, and beating Guinea in the round of 16 was unthinkable, but it unfolds before the sights of the footballing world and caught even the most ardent of support by surprise.That was the Gambia's sweetest victory not because it came at the Round of 16, but because it was the first time we saw the Gambia attacked with verve and precision. At halftime, the possession was 50 - 50 and in the second half, the Gambia gained 2% ahead of their opponents (52 - 48). The brilliant lone goal scored by Bologna's forward Musa Barrow was just a glimpse of the Gambia's attacking prowess, but the Belgian will never revert to playing attacking football as he had his journey ended at the next stage.End of the journeyTom and his tactics were all at sea against the host nation Cameroon in the quarterfinals, the Gambia were largely bystanders, uncharacteristically pedestrian from start to finish all as a result of poor tactical approach.Tom decided to start with two natural half-backs at either side of the defence, added to that, two centre backs and two deep-lying midfielders. This was purely a safety formation.The inexplicable tactics gave Cameroon players the space to move in a triangle in a way that had the Gambia in confusion and greatly reduced their chance of launching counterattacks. At halftime, it was all square and Tom have it his way as he said his game plan was 'not to concede in the first half.'Tom was already bewildered by Cameroon's high pressing game, he has no idea as to how to contain the host in the second half.After surviving a string of early Cameroonian incursions, the Gambia had their lines breached when Karl Toko Ekambia nodded home on the 50th minutes, before adding another one later in the game to draw an end to the Gambia's fairytale campaign.For an underachieving coach like Tom, this was the greatest achievement of his career but many criticised the Gambia for turning the beautiful game on its head.Former Nigeria captain Jay-Jay Okocha said this about the Gambia:"In terms of the level of play, the Gambia has been the worst team in AFCON, I hope they try to play than sit and defend.""It was only about Cameroon, you almost ask how did the Gambia make the quarterfinals with this performance."Senegal and Liverpool forward Sadio Mané also said to the Gambia team "have the courage to play, don't be scared in football there is no big team or small team, it is 11 men vs 11 men."For players so accustomed to beautiful football, playing ugly is always a pain in the heart. Who will blame Okocha and Mané for the comments!The Positives & NegativesSo long there's so much to brag about in this AFCON, there are equally loop holes as well. But first, the players put in so much effort to get the Gambia on the good side of history. Gambia's name has hit another height. This brought along reputation and respect for the country's players at the continental stage.A country under the heels of heated political campaign and elections were nothing but divided. Gambia's participation and performance in the AFCON create that much-needed reunion.In the business sector, it created markets. Thousands of Gambia's replica jerseys were sold out, added to, banners and flags. Recent reports revealed that the Gambia's shirts sold out during the AFCON period is as many times more than the past three decades.And how about the social media users, they used the videos and pictures of the Scorpions to increase their page likes, views and comments. Anytime a picture of the Scorpions is posted, it attracts greater attention.The players as well benefited during the campaign, as small as it may look, each player received a bonus that amounts to D700, 000 and the players are still promised ten thousand dollars each. All combined, that's a great earning for average earners like the Scorpions players within a short period.The unfortunates nearly overshadowed the Scorpions historic campaign with the whole drama starting with the 'Steve saga'. The country's most popular player going into the AFCON fall out with the coach and decided to abandon the team and returned to his club in the UAE. Even when both the federation and the player himself tried to sit on the information, sources within the camp revealed that the player left due to frustrations as he was unused in the country's first two games.As if that was not enough talking point, the team got stranded in Cameroon for a day after their exit. This triggered widespread condemnation as some players took to social media to lash at the Federation for being "selfish". "All they are saying is not true, they are only here for their pockets," one of the players said. But, the National Coordinating Committee say the delay was a result of a breach of contract by the Airline company.Some players could not stand it as they pay for their tickets to return to their various clubs.This was a major setback, as the planned 'hero's welcome' the thousands of Gambians were willing to accord the team was all cancelled. Instead of returning as heroes, the team returned as any ordinary passenger.Now that the AFCON is done and dusted, the onus lies on the Federation, the Government and the players to ensure the team qualify for the 2023 AFCON and the 2026 World Cup. Can they achieve that?.
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