By Anthony Kokoi Ducor Sports
Many were reminded over the weekend about Portugal’s shocking triumph in the Euros 2016. The reminder follows Gambia U-20 national team’s accomplishment as champions of the 2018 WAFU U-20 Zone A football tournament after a slow start in the competition.
Two goals scored in each half saw the Gambians edging out host Liberia 2-1 in the grand final at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville.
Adama Jammeh scored the opener in the early minutes of the first half that sent the Young Scorpions to the first half break with a 1-0 lead. His goal followed an earlier opportunity missed by Liberia’s striker Musa Kebbay that could have given the Junior Lone Stars an early lead.
Later in the second half, defender Jeremy Saygbe leveled the scores in the 50th minute for the Junior Lone Stars after hitting in a cross from the left corner flag.
The Gambia finally secured the surprising win after Alfusainey Jatta hit in a low cross in the 67th minute after goalkeeper Ashely Williams saved a shot from striker Basirou Mbye, but was unable to prevent the low cross from Sadi Gaye.
At the end of the tournament, Gambia’s goalkeeper, Yankuba Colley was awarded the best goalkeeper, while Liberia’s Allen Njie and Cote d’Ivoire’s Diabate Yalatie were awarded the MVP and Highest Goal score awards respectively.
The Young Scorpions performance was not impressive from the start after a goalless draw against Guinea-Conakry in their first match. After match day 1 results, Gambia was considered one of the unfavorable teams to win the tournament, with Ivory Coast, Mali, and Sierra Leone listed as title favorites.
The same result continued in the second match after a 1-1 against Senegal. With one game left to decide the group’s second place winner, the Junior Scorpions collected their first win. They narrowly defeated group winners Mali 1-0 in their final group stage match to advance to the semis of the tournament.
As always in the last four of a football competition, it was an intriguing moment after the Junior Scorpions were paired against title favorite, the Junior Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire.
Not many followers of the tournament expected the Junior Scorpions to cross that stage, but on the other hand, they received huge support from spectators, majority Liberians at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex. The Liberians were in support of The Gambia eliminating their nightmare, Cote d’Ivoire who they did not want to meet if they qualify for the finals.
The Junior Lone Stars perhaps overlooked the defensive tactics of The Gambia and thought it was a ‘free ride’ after they saw off Mali 1-0 in the semi-finals.
However, the Junior Scorpions succeeded in their defensive style of play after knocking out the Junior Elephants 6-5 in post-match penalties. Head Coach Mattar M’Boge used his same defensive tactics and perhaps built on some pieces of advice given to him by LISCR FC Gambian coach, Tapha Manneh who had several players from his team playing for the Junior Lone Stars.
If that actually happened, then one of those pieces of advice given to the Young Scorpions was to avoid foul at the edge of the 18-yard box due to the presence of dead ball specialist Sekou Sherrif who plays for LISCR FC.
The team succeeded, but it did not stop midfielder Sherriff. He tested the goalkeeping skills of Yankuba Colley after he attempted scoring from the corner flags.
Powerful quote from Gambia U-20 captain, Basirou Mbye
“The most important thing about us is the team spirit. Whenever someone makes mistake, we work together as a team to recover from it, this is what led to us winning the tournament.”