The Gambia return to competitive action this weekend with a new coach as they travel to face South Africa in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
Swiss Raoul Savoy is charged with reviving the Scorpions’ fortunes as they comeback from a ban that saw them miss the 2015 Nations Cup campaign.
“We can write a new history now, we are starting from zero,” he told BBC Sport. “We have a lot of new players who are just starting out and it is also a young squad with a lot of talent.”
The Gambia 2017 Nations Cup qualifiers:
13/06/15: v South Africa (a)
26-29/03/16: v Mauritania (h)
04-06/09/15: v Cameroon (h)
03-05/06/16: v South Africa (h)
23-26/03/16: v Mauritania (a)
02-04/09/16: v Cameroon (a)
The Gambia were initially banned in May 2014 for two years from all Confederation of African Football competitions for deliberately falsifying player’s ages in an under-20 match.
The ban was lifted just 5 months later after a new Gambia Football Association executive was voted in. The 42-year-old Savoy returns to Africa after previously working in Cameroon, Morocco, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Algeria and the Central African Republic.
As well as South Africa his side will play World Cup finalists Cameroon and Mauritania in Group M of the 2017 qualifiers and he is aware of the challenge ahead.
“Of course, South Africa and Cameroon are more experienced and bigger teams than us but in football you never know,” he said. “If they give us a chance to challenge them and become the surprise of the group, we’ll do it of course. “We are not saying we are victims, we know we have the potential but we are new. “That’s why we must learn match after match and we’ll see – maybe we’ll create some surprises. Why not?”
Savoy is confident that he has the raw materials to work with in The Gambia. “There is a lot of talent here; it’s a talented country,” he insisted. “It’s a small country but they also have a lot of talent based out of the country – in the United States, in Europe, in England, everywhere. “Some of them have already played for the national team, others are new now, they will get their first cap in the next week. “I think I will have a lot of work to do to go and watch all of them (across the world) and chose a better team in the coming months.”
And he hopes that his latest post can be a stepping stone to bigger things and follow the likes of Philippe Troussier and Herve Renard. “Renard was the Troussier of Zambia, I can be the Herve Renard of Gambia!”
By Mark Gleeson – BBC Sport, Cape Town