The development of this Gambia U20 side has caught even the most ardent Gambian football fan by surprise. How the team has evolved from the WAFU Zone-A Championship in Mauritania to the AFCON in Egypt, finishing as runners-up on both occasions and now a dominant showing in the FIFA World Cup in Argentina, has left many wowed. Is it down to tactical maturity, technical genius, or sheer hunger to break into global football powerhouses? Those are questions for another day. In this one, we focus entirely on the race for the unthinkable, but not a race for the impossible – the Gambia’s attempt to clinch the U20 World Cup trophy. The Gambia once again shocked the world with their football prowess, as they finished as Group F winners ahead of current runners-up – Korea Republic and 2013 champions France, to reach the round of 16. The young scorpions matched their best-ever performance at this level when the Gambia made their first and only appearance in a U20 world cup tournament in 2007. The Gambia will take on Uruguay on June 1st, 2023 in the round of 16. THE CONTINENT’S PRIDE! This unbeaten run of the Gambia U20 side in the 2023 FIFA World Cup is already a continental victory, as they became the only African side to gain an automatic qualification with two wins and a draw in the group stages. Nigeria with 6 points and Tunisia with 3, negotiated their way via the best third-placed team slots, while continental champions Senegal crashed out on a huff, disappointingly finishing bottom of Group C with two points. This is already a big disappointment for Senegal and will no doubt cut short the euphoria around their AFCON success. And so too the continent lost some pride as its champions failed to prove their worth where it mattered the most. As it appears, coach Abdoulie Bojang and his charges are the only continental representatives that have shown a performance far convincing that one can trust, and is quite capable of driving home some pride for the continent. And, Nigeria with their pedigree and history which saw them accumulate 6 out of the possible 9 points in the opening group stage, can’t be ruled out of anything. They are continental architects in playing this tournament. They appeared 12 times, and in the process, finished as runners-up in 1989 and 2005. Tunisia’s performance is far from convincing. With a mere 3 points in the group stage, should they go beyond the round of 16, will surely be one of football’s biggest bonuses. This Gambia side has already set the bar high and they did not look like they are willing to lower it against any opposition. Given their recent form and performances at the group stage, they look potentially ready for any side. “We don’t look at names, what is crucial for us is we believe in what we can do,” Coach Bojang said. That statement is justified by the performance they showed at the group stages against France, Honduras, and the Korean Republic. Their performance at the group stages which they combined with verve, precision, and tactical discipline without an iota of panic, clearly sends a strong intent about their ambitions. This team is clearly up for the unthinkable, but not impossible mission. They are poised to make global history with the way they are realistically chasing the FIFA youth accolade at the same pace as some serial champions. TASK AHEAD Now that the Gambia has moved from a side tipped to be ‘heading home’ early, to potential title contenders, means, the task ahead can be a tough one. “The most important thing is our tactics and trying to be better than our opponents during the 90 minutes.” Lie Bojang said. And the task is, to apply that statement on the pitch when they face Uruguay, a side that is playing this tournament for the 15th time but has yet to clinch any title as they reached and lost the finals in 1997 and 2013. This could be considered a big achievement for a side like the Gambia who are only appearing for the second time. But, this crop of young dynamic players, seem to care less about reputation, and, the flair and depth of the Gambia’s squad are quite capable of causing an upset against any opposition. The return of Muhammed Jobe to the already-established Gambia U20 has taken the team to another level and the firepower of the unstoppable Adama Bojang could be a cause for concern for any defensive line. Adama who scored two goals, is a candidate for the golden boot as he is two goals behind Italy’s Cesare Casadei who tops the chart with four goals. Can the Gambia set a new record by surpassing the round of 16 or even cause a global tsunami by reaching the finals?
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