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THE TANGLED NET: TOM SAINTFIET, GAMBIAN JOURNALISTS, AND A FOOTBALLING FEUD

The air around Tom Saintfiet and Gambian journalists crackles with an undeniable tension. It's a relationship steeped in accusations, misunderstandings, and a hefty dose of bruised egos. Unravelling the truth becomes tricky, for the narrative, like a footballer's footwork, often shifts with dizzying agility.

On one hand, Saintfiet, the Gambian national team coach, paints himself as a misunderstood knight in shining armor, unfairly criticized by a hostile press. He points to his achievements – a respectable Africa Cup of Nations qualification campaign – as proof of his worth, highlighting what he perceives as a lack of appreciation from Gambian journalists.

However, a closer look reveals a different perspective. Saintfiet's maiden encounter with the Gambian press wasn't exactly a love-fest. He launched into verbal attacks, setting the tone for a turbulent relationship. Subsequent interactions were often laced with ridicule and dismissive shrugs, hardly fostering warmth or mutual respect.

This frosty demeanor fuelled speculation that Saintfiet was merely a puppet in the grand play orchestrated by the Gambia Football Federation (GFF). Whispers allege that the GFF, eager to control the narrative surrounding the national team, deliberately pitted Saintfiet against the press, using him as a shield against critical scrutiny.

Whether this is true or not is a matter of conjecture. But the consequences are undeniable. Gambian journalists, used to a certain level of engagement with foreign coaches, found themselves shut out, relegated to the sidelines while Saintfiet cozied up to the GFF's handpicked media (GFF media).

Saintfiet's savior complex further complicates the equation. He seems to believe his presence alone elevates Gambian football, his achievements a gift bestowed upon an undeserving nation. This, naturally, rubs Gambian journalists the wrong way. Their job, after all, is to hold power to account, not sing paeans of praise.

Finding a path out of this quagmire requires a change in mindset. Saintfiet must shed his victimhood cloak and accept that criticism is an integral part of the game. He needs to engage with Gambian journalists openly and honestly, fostering a relationship built on respect and mutual understanding.

For their part, Gambian journalists must move beyond perceived slights and approach Saintfiet with professionalism, focusing on factual reporting and fair analysis. Knee-jerk reactions and personal attacks only serve to widen the gulf.

Ultimately, both sides must recognize that they are, quite literally, on the same team. Their shared goal is the success of Gambian football, and this can only be achieved through collaboration, not antagonism. Only then can the air clear, the tension dissipate, and the beautiful game truly flourish in the Land of Smiling Coasts.

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    COMMENTARY: THE SCORPIONS' STING OR SONG OF THE SWAN?

    The drums of despair beat a heavy rhythm in Gambian hearts. The Scorpions, our beloved national team, lie coiled at the bottom of Group C, their venom spent, their hopes dwindling faster than the sands of time. No goals, no points, just a shadow of the team that danced with optimism before the tournament began.Tonight, the air crackles with desperation. Fans cling to the fragile threads of hope, whispering prayers to a God who seems to have turned a deaf ear. Bright Stars, our lead cheerleaders desperately wanting to hang on to the good food and beautiful atmosphere of the land of the elephants, GFF Officials, their faces etched with worry, huddle around every score sheet, frantically calculating the odds of becoming one of the "best losers" - a consolation prize no one truly desires.Tom Saintfiet, the man entrusted with weaving magic from this band of scorpions, stands at the precipice. His magic tricks at the last AFCON already busted. Was the scorpion's first stint on the big stage a flash in the pan? The sting of Guinea's victory still fresh, he must now face the roaring lion of Cameroon, a beast wounded but far from tamed. His previous pronouncements, the sarcastic barbs aimed at critics, and the dismissive caricature of Gambian football, echo hollowly in the face of this do-or-die battle.This is no time for swagger, no room for self-congratulation. The Gambian league, once deemed unworthy by Saintfiet, now holds the echoes of dreams shattered, of potential unfulfilled. The record, once a blank slate, now bears the stark inscription of failure. It is a record that stares back at him, a mirror reflecting not the image of a saviour, but of a man adrift, clutching at straws.But tonight, the Scorpions cannot afford introspection. They must fight, not for glory, but for pride. They must sting back, not with venom, but with the spirit of a nation that refuses to surrender. For the fans who fill the stadium, their roar will be a weapon, their chants a shield against the tide of despair.The whistle blows. The Scorpions take the field, their eyes locked on the prize, or perhaps on the precipice. Can they weave their magic, can they defy the odds? Only time will tell. But one thing is certain, tonight, the Scorpions will dance, not to the tune of triumph, but to the rhythm of their own resilience.This is not just a game. It is a battle cry, a desperate plea for redemption. It is the Scorpions' song of the swan, a defiant melody that will echo long after the final whistle. Whether it be a sting of victory or a mournful dirge, the Gambia will listen, and remember.For tonight, we are all Scorpions, and our hearts beat as one. Let the drums of despair be drowned out by the roar of our hope. Let the dance begin.

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    GAMBIA SCORPIONS ARRIVE IN KSA AHEAD OF A WEEK-LONG TRAINING CAMP

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    PARA-SPORT ON THE RISE AMID HUGE CHALLENGES

     Dressed in a blue tracksuit on a chilly Saturday morning, Ebrima Jallow alighted from a commercial vehicle at Bakau's Independence Stadium main gate.  Holding his phone in one hand listening to music via white ear pods and his training kit in the other hand as he slowly walked with the aid of his prosthetic leg to the football field on the other side of the stadium's main bowl to join his teammates in training.Ebrima 22, is a member of the National Amputee football team and one of the star players of the team.The national team nicknamed the "Amputee Scorpions" trains twice a week to stay in shape and fit for future competitions. 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    2023 AFCON: SCORPIONS TO FACE NEIGHBORS IN GROUP C

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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!!!

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    A JUBILANT NATION CELEBRATES ANOTHER AFCON QUALIFICATION, AFTER A STUNNING FIGHTBACK AGAINST CONGO

    An entertaining and dramatic match at the Marrakech Stadium will be remembered for a stunning comeback, orchestrated by two substitutes as the Gambia secure a place in the Africa Cup of Nations for the second time running. At first, it appeared the Scorpions were going to miss out on a spot in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast. They were woeful in the first 45. Outplayed and outwitted by Congo Brazzaville, who threatened to upstage the Scorpions in a first-half display of poise and panache. Congo scored twice in the first half. First, Gaius Makouta capitalized on a lapse in concentration to poke home from close range after the half-hour mark. That was followed by a Silvere Ganvoula penalty after the referee adjudged Gambia’s captain Omar Colley for a handball in the 45th minute. A decision bitterly contested by the Gambia’s camp. At that moment, it appears a seemingly desperate situation for the Gambia. With the clock ticking towards the 80th minute, hopes were slowly fading for the Scorpions, as Congo put themselves within touching distance of qualification. A desperately looking Tom Saintfiet looked to his bench for salvation. And his substitutes did the magic for him and the over two million soccer-loving people of the Gambia. First, teenage Feyenoord forward Yankuba Minteh struck within minutes of his introduction. Substitute Muhammed Badamosi flicked on Ibou Touray’s cross into the path of the unmarked Yankuba Minteh who rolled home from close range in what was his competitive debut for the National Team. Minteh first appeared for the Gambia against Guinea Bissau in an international friendly in Turkey on November 20, 2022. That goal sparked new life into the Scorpions and they piled up the pressure on the retreating Red Devils of Congo.  With the clock ticking towards full-time, deep into added time, Saudi Pro League star Muhammed Badamosi turned the tie on its head to help the Scorpions complete an incredible comeback. Hopes were rekindled, and everyone started to believe that a comeback was on the cards as the Scorpions of the Gambia only needed a point to maintain second spot in the group behind group leaders, Mali. Congo at first looked defiant, but they were not able to muster the energy to resist the pressure from Tom and his players who duly got rewarded in the 90th minute when Badamosi leaped high to glance home a looping cross from Musa Barrow. The goal sparked huge celebrations on the pitch and in the stands where a handful of Gambia Football Federation officials as well as few Gambians who managed to filed into the grounds were camped. But, the epicenter of the celebrations was back home in the Gambia as Gambians rejoice another qualification to the Afcon championship by the National Team, the Scorpions. This was truly a historic moment for the Gambia side who played all their qualifiers away from home due to the ban on the country’s only stadium by CAF. Yet, they showed composure and determination to reach another milestone achievement in the country’s sporting history. 

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    SCORPIONS ON THE BRINK OF 2023 AFCON PLACE AS WIND OF OPTIMISM BLOWS ACROSS

    From the Head of State to the Sports Minister, the GFF President, the coach of the Gambia National Team, the players, and the last supporter of the team. One thing they all eye, is the Gambia’s return to the AFCON for the second time in succession.The team is truly on the brink, and the performance they showed to this stage, will leave any supporter with great hope. Scorpions of The Gambia are currently second in Group G, a position that is still in contention. But they stand the biggest chance to make it their own when they take on Congo who are third, three points adrift, and stand a chance to topple the Gambia – alas! – ‘God forbid.’ Gambia will take on Congo on Sunday 10th September in Morocco at 7 p.m. Gambian time for a place in the 2023 AFCON in Ivory Coast.The worst the Gambia can avoid to return to the AFCON for the second time, is a defeat, which will see Congo through on a head-to-head basis, even though, they will tie on 9 points with the Scorpions. Their double victory over the Gambia will give them an advantage as per the CAF rules – that is if they (Congo) win.THE SQUADThe Gambia’s Belgian tactician, Tom Saintfiet, has named his squad that he believes can help him achieve another milestone – qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations for the second time under his spell.On his previous unveiling, the Belgian has come under immense criticism. But it appears he got it almost all right this time as many of his critics did not lash at his mode of team selection. He named a 23-man squad that on paper looks solid, and it will not be any surprising if they look solid on the pitch too.The team comprised notable names like Omar Colley, Modou Jobe, Able Jallow, Babucarr Gaye, Musa Barrow, and Assan Ceesay among others who all experienced the continental showpiece – AFCON, in the last edition in Cameroon which was the first time the Gambia make AFCON appearance.Remarkably, they finished 6th overall – losing 2 – 0 to the host nation Cameroon in the quarterfinals.This crop of players can be trusted. Judging by the clubs they are playing for, the playing times, and their form individually. Players like team captain Omar Colley, Ablie Jallow, Assan Ceesay, Muhammed Badamosi, and Yankuba Minteh were all on the scoresheet for their respective sides heading into the international break. With such form, and Tom Saintfiet’s pragmatic approach, one could only stay upbeat that the Scorpions are on course to write another history.OPTIMISM AND REACTIONS.I was opportune to be closer to the players during their training camp in Turkey in late 2022. I had interviews with a lot of them. As sensitive as they might appear, I still had casual discussions with a lot of them during their leisure time at the hotel, about their readiness for a return to the AFCON.The message has been the same. ‘We want to go back to the AFCON. And, we will do whatever it takes to qualify. All we need is the support and prayers of the Gambian people, so we can make them proud again.’ This was what many of them echoed.Quite reassuring, isn’t it? Those are committed statements that represent the mindset around the team. Under a coach [Tom] who likes bragging about his records and achievements. One could only sense complete readiness around the Scorpions team.“We will do everything possible to write more history. It is not easy, though Congo-Brazzaville is a good team. They have good players and a good coach, so we will face a very tough challenge,”“We want to qualify. We have tasted two years ago how beautiful AFCON is, and we want to go back there, and we will be ready to compete.” Tom said in an interview with Ebrima KB. Sonko.Hopes are high that, the Scorpions will write another history as they did in March 2021 when Assan Ceesay scored a lone goal against Angola in Banjul to send millions around the country into ecstatic celebrations as the Scorpions qualify for the AFCON, - Remarkably, the first time in history.  CAUTION!As the game approaches, it's difficult for anyone to think about anything, other than a return to the AFCON for the Scorpions. But some of us who have been following football closely, know we can all come crashing, back down to earth if there is one bit of complacency. Not what anyone will pray for, but ruling it all together out, will go against football in all aspects.With the physical strength Congo has in their squad, coupled with their experience in the AFCON [Winners in 1972, 4th Place 1974, Quarterfinalist 1992 & 2015].   You would expect their 1 – 0 win over the Scorpions in the first leg, to click them into gear. And they are under the guidance of a coach [Paul Put] who knows Gambian football, as little as it may, not new to him.Congo will certainly look to mount some pressure as they look to make a return to the AFCON for the first time since 2015 in Equatorial Guinea.This job for the Scorpions is close to being done but also far from done.However, the Belgian tactician and this group of players know how to write history. They have set new standards. And, they are spoiling Scorpions’ fans who have suffered for too long with joy.It will be mind-boggling to bet against them, turning more dreams into reality.

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    GAMBIA U-15 PRESENTS CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY TO SPORTS MINISTER

    After returning to the country following their under-15 youth championship triumph in Oslo, Norway, the Gambian team led by Goodwill ambassador Tijan Jaiteh, presented the trophy to Bakary Y. Badjie the Minister for Youth and Sports.The 2023 edition of the Norway Cup is the second time a Gambian team is taking part in the championship. The Gambian U-15 completed the tournament unbeaten and defeated Ullern 3-2 in the final to clinch the 2023 championship trophy in Oslo.Championing the investment of resources in sports towards the well-being of Gambian youth, Minister Badjie recognized the team's outstanding efforts in bringing glory to the country and putting the country's name on the world stage.‘You have the joy of having won the trophy but then the country benefits. People who didn’t know about the Gambia would know. The media will talk about it and someone who doesn’t know will hear it. And those that are interested will go searching where Gambia is, you know what that does, it increases our tourism’. Ndey Marie Njie, the Permanent Secretary at the Youth and Sports Ministry congratulated the team and urged them to keep working hard. She assured them of the government’s continuous investment towards the improvement of the welfare of youths.Tijan Jaiteh, the Goodwill Ambassador for Sports, thanked the Ministry for its contribution to the team’s participation in the tournament. He said the youngsters fought hard to bring home the trophy despite playing six games in nine days.National Youth Adviser, Lamin K. Saidy, expressed delight and satisfaction at the team's performance, which he said brought joy to the people of the Gambia. He commended the Ministry for investing in Youth development.Speaking on behalf of the team, Ebrima Saidy and Sainey Njie, expressed the team’s sincere appreciation to the ministry and the country for their encouragement as they continue to seek their support to bring more glory to the Gambia.