By John Mendy
The Gambia blew home advantage against Mali in a goalless stalemate in the first leg of their 2018 African Nations Championship at the Independence Stadium in Bakau on Saturday.
The local Eagles of Mali, who retained six players of last year’s badge that took part in last championship in Rwanda, had the better of the first half with the lion share of possession but failed in their numerous attempts to find a decent shot on target, even when he home side gave them little trouble the other end of the field. The local boys were visibly relieved with the uneventful half. heading into recess .
But pockets of space gradually opened up when Coach Alagie Sarr’s substitutions brought Gambia’s game to life in the final 20 minutes.
However, all chances proved futile as entrants Mustapha Drammeh was denied with a block to his tricky effort and Adama Jammeh drilling inches off the post with a long-range attempt.
The remaining few minutes were bleak as Gambia’s Alagie Sarr’s reign got off to a slow start with another home advantage not utilized to any significant effect but scoreline still nicely poised for the return leg.
The two sides will meet again next week in Mali for the second leg where the winner on aggregate will face either Mauritania or Liberia in the final round of the qualifying campaign in August.
And to ensure progression, the local scorpions will have to win or drew 1-1 or more in order to advance to the next round preliminaries for the rights to play in the CAF African Nations Championships (CHAN) Kenya, 2018.
The Gambia have never qualified into the CHAN finals after two failed attempts while Mali finished as runners up in the 2016 finals.