Monday, July 22, 2024

Sports Minister, Others Optimistic About The Gambia’s Survival in AFCON’s ‘Group of Death’

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By: Zackline Colley

The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) draw that took place in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on October 12 has pitted Coach Tom Saintfiet and his team against title holders Senegal in Group C, which also features Cameroon and Guinea.

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All four teams advanced from the group stage in the AFCON 2021, with The Gambia making it to the quarterfinals before being eliminated by hosts Cameroon.

The Gambia’s debut at the tournament was remarkable with some notable performances, including a win over Tunisia to qualify from the group. They eliminated Guinea in the first knockout round and will now face them again in next year’s AFCON.

Despite being in a tough group, The Gambia’s Youth and Sports Minister, Bakary Y Badjie, remains optimistic about their journey in the tournament.

“We are hopeful. The fact is we know we have a good team and determined players who are always hungry to win. Let’s hope that they replicate the dedication and steadfastness they showed in the 2021 AFCON and their previous matches,” Badjie said.

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The minister applauded the coach and his entire team as he told The Fatu Network that he believes the coach has the ‘technique’ to win against powerhouses in football.

“I know and believe that the coach has the technique to win against any team. We have seen him win matches against powerhouses. But the most important thing as we head to our second appearance is to get out of the group stage and make it out of the knockout stages and we will be able to get there,” he added.

Mr Badjie stressed the significance of thoroughly preparing for the upcoming tournament scheduled in early 2024. He reiterated the government’s dedication to backing the national team and providing the essential resources to guarantee a successful campaign.

“We are planning and strategizing about the finances and other logistics involved. The public will be informed once everything is set. But the government is ready to support the team to get to where we all want,” he told TFN.

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Coach Tom Saintfiet is always under immense pressure from fans who criticize his approach to matches. While many would like to see him play more attacking football, the Belgium tactician’s style has proven effective for the team.

According to award-winning sports journalist Lamin Del Fadera, the Scorpions may not have a chance on paper, but on the pitch, they could sting their opponents and defy all odds, depending on Saintfiets’ match strategies.

“A lot of people might not like Tom’s approach. They will prefer he plays attacking football, but I believe the best way to attack is to defend.”

Mr. Fadera noted that he has been a critic of Tom’s style of play, but he remains content as long as the results are satisfying.

“I have been a number one critic of Saintfiet’s playing style, but he satisfies and what matters in football is results. We can play good attacking football, and still not produce good results and when that happens, fingers will be pointed at the head coach as well,” Fadera said.

Lamin Fadera is confident that despite being underdogs in group C, The Gambia has what it takes to be the surprise package of the competition. With their ability to deliver within 90 minutes, Fadera believes that The Gambia can make a strong impression.

Bakary Jammeh, the first vice president of the Gambia Football Federation (GFF), expressed his optimism about The Gambia’s chances in the competition. He cited the team’s recent performances and the dedication of both the players and coaching staff as reasons for his confidence.

“It is an exciting group but certainly a tough one. I see it as great progress for The Gambia and the Scorpions as they are about to go shoulder to shoulder with Africa’s top powerhouses in their second appearance,” he said.

The GFF vice president expressed the federation’s commitment to developing youth and strengthening the national team in preparation for AFCON 2023 and beyond.

“The federation aims to make the most of this historic opportunity, leveraging it to create a legacy for Gambian football that will stand the test of time.”

The Gambia’s national football team faces tough competition in the upcoming AFCON tournament. They will play against group-stage opponents Senegal, Cameroon, and Guinea, who are ranked much higher than them. However, the most exciting match will be against their rivals and AFCON holders, Senegal, who have star players such as reigning African Footballer of the Year Sadio Mane and Edouard Mendy.

Another match to watch out for is against Guinea, who will seek revenge after The Gambia beat them 1-0 in the knockout stage of the 2021 AFCON.

The entire nation is celebrating the team’s qualification for the tournament, and there is growing anticipation for AFCON 2023. The team’s success has not only made history for Gambian football but also brought a sense of national pride and unity beyond the field. The whole country will be rooting for the Scorpions as they embark on their AFCON journey with hopes of making new history.

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