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Not an entire sigh of relief. But this was a moment that rekindled some hope for the Gambia whose chances would have been in total danger if the results had gone otherwise. 


In what was his ‘44th cap’ for the Scorpions, Gambia's captain Omar Colley proved the hero when it mattered the most. He nodded home the game’s only goal – his first for the National Team, to keep The Gambia's chances of qualifying for the 2023 AFCON alive, as they defeated Mali in round four of the qualifiers. 


It was a near hopeless situation for many supporters, after the Gambia suffered back-to-back defeats, in round two and three, to Congo and Mali respectively.


What better way, then, to give the team, supporters, and the nation a much-needed boost than beating a highly rated side – Mali, who were on the back of three successive wins and would have qualified even if they were able to grab a point against Gambia. 


Gambia’s coach Tom Saintfiet has always been on the receiving end of criticism for his 'defensive tactics' and team selections. But the Belgian has always vindicated himself with not only the historic qualification of the team to last AFCON but equally reaching the quarter-finals. Those were enough moments to shut down any critic.


But this time around, it was the critics who were vindicated. Tom and his ‘Catenaccio’ approach were all at sea in the first leg against Mali in Bamako. He put up a highly defensive minded team that ended up losing 2 – 0 to Mali.


And the Belgian once more handed himself to the critics and he was not able to withstand the pressure for the critics.


In this return leg, which was played in Morocco due to the ban on the Gambia stadium by CAF. The Belgian switched to a more proactive approach, starting with four defenders, three midfielders and three attackers. This proved effective. The Gambia were good both at the back, in midfield and attack. The result is a justification. This was no sheer luck, it was well earned by a somewhat dynamic squad.


Omar Colley was not just fantastic because he was the goal scorer. He was the inspiration of the team, while Musa Barrow, Ali Sow, Assan and Alieu were trying to execute the plans orchestrated by Alasana Manneh and his alter-ego – Hamza Barry in midfield. The general cohesion of the Gambian team was commendable.   


With this win, critics will say they’ve done a good job by criticising Tom’s approach in the last game. Who will question that, they are absolutely right!


But they will say ‘give the devil its due’. The credit of this victory cannot be taken away from Tom. It was his substitutions that helped the team maintain their balance upfront and the assist came from a substitute.  


Now that some life has been injected into the wire, and left the group wide open. That means some hopeful situation. The scorpions have their destiny squarely with their grips.


A maximum six points in their remaining two games, will mean an automatic return to the AFCON for the second successive time. Even if Tom and his charges can manage four out of the possible six, they still stand a great chance to qualify. This however, will be determined by the outcome of the other games.


The Gambia will first travel to South Sudan in June 2023 for their penultimate qualifiers, before hosting Congo in September for what will be a possible decider in Banjul – Provided that the Independence Stadium is ready.


If Tom can build on the flair at his disposal, he is likely going to get more positive results. The body language of the Gambian players in this game was a clear indication that they prefer a proactive approach to a reactive one. 


If they are capable of ending Mali's 22 years of dominance over them with their first win since 2001, then they are capable of setting even much better records which will help enrich Tom Saintfiet's CV. Are we going to see Tom sticking with an attacking approach, perhaps yes, given the need for victories in the remaining games.





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    AFCON 2023 Draw: Five key points for the Scorpions Ahead of the Afcon 2023 tournament

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In the coming weeks and months, a lot will be riding on the next move by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Gambia Football Federation. The Gambia do not have a bottomless pit full of money yet, smart decisions and proper coordination helped deliver some needed cash for the National Team in the last Nations Cup participation. No last-minute scrambles to set-up a Fundraising team!!!3.       The Squad: Coach Tom Saintfiet is spoilt for choices when it comes to the number of players carrying Gambian passports or those of Gambian roots. The Gambia is blessed with talented players. We have always had talented players, but, the Gambia of 2023 has so many players playing in top leagues across Europe and now in the cash-rich Saudi Pro League. Coach Saintfiet, despite this luxury, remains consistent in moulding a core group of talented players who are providing him the right results from day one. More players will be invited to the squad, but Coach Saintfiet’s battle-hardened core group will be crucial to our chances of progressing from our group. The Players will deliver!!!!4.       Key Players: Assessing who a key player is in Tom Saintfeit’s team could pose a challenge to even the most accomplished football expert. But there is a Messi in Argentina. A Ronaldo in a Portugal side. And how about Tom Saintfiet’s side? This Gambia side is built on the power of the collective. The Belgian’s tactics make it easy for the team to thrive. Not a bad idea, considering, the team continues to defy logic in navigating numerous hazardous situations in qualifiers and during tournaments. The Squad though has some match winners and they are coming good at the right time ahead of the tournament. Right across the spine of the team, we have some of our most important players: Safe hands: Baboucarr Gaye, remains number one. In defence, young James Gomez is a towering presence alongside Captain Omar Colley. In midfield, Hamza Barry provides the creative spark for the team, and in attack, Coach Sainfiet has an array of talent to choose from: Ablie Jallow, Assan Ceesay, Musa Barrow, and Muhammed Badamosi all providing the coach with different options. But, the future of Gambian football rests on the young shoulders of the mercurial talents of Yankuba Minteh. He is the rising star of Gambian football!!!5.       The Draw: Who do we fancy in the draw? The Gambia will enter this draw on the back of a truly dramatic end to the qualifying campaign in Group G with two late goals to secure a place in the Afcon 2023 tournament. It confirms Gambia's second straight appearance at a Nations Cup tournament following the Scorpions' impressive showing in Cameroon in 2022. The Scorpions will be joining some stellar names for the draw including defending Champions and neighbours, Senegal. The Teranga Lions will be gunning for a second straight championship victory but they will be facing a stiff challenge from the likes of Nigeria, host nation, Ivory Coast, alongside the North African contingent of Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt. The Gambia Scorpions though are going into the tournament in buoyant mood!!!