Now that The Gambia is through to the group stages of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers following a gruesome preliminary round win over Chad, the Scorpions can now finally give themselves a bye into these nerve-wracking encounters in the subsequent competitions.
For a layman, it was almost unthinkable how the Scorpions, ranked sixth best in the recently held AFCON in Cameroon, is playing in these crazy preliminaries. Worse still is that by the end of February, when Fifa released its most recent world rankings, we were ranked 125 in the World and 33 in Africa, and there were 10 teams ranked below Tom Saintfiet’s charges which includes the likes of Togo, Angola, Comoros, Liberia, Ethiopia, amongst others, who were all given a bye into the group stages.
The explanation is simple, by the time the draw was held in late January in Cameroon, The Gambia was amongst the 12 lowest ranked sides in Africa and the rules governing the qualification were in place even before the last AFCON so it wasn’t targeted at us.
However, more positively, the implication of Tuesday’s progression to the group stages is that we will no longer play in the preliminary rounds unless our rankings fall into the lowest 12 again. And with a decent AFCON coupled with Tueday’s win, as well as the upward trajectory in national team’s performances in recent years, it’s highly unlikely that we can fall such low again.
Another positive implication is that, even though CAF hasn’t decided the draw format for the qualifiers yet, the most recent rankings before any draw is always one of the factors taken into consideration. Thus, the least we may likely find ourselves in is in Pot 3 instead of Pot 4 for the lowest ranked sides despite having to negotiate our way through the preliminaries.
This will ensure that we’re not likely to find ourselves in any so-called group of death and that offers the opportunity for a more favourable draw. With the top two in each qualifying group assured of a place in Cote D’Ivoire 2023, we can fancy our chances of a second successive appearance at Africa’s continental showpiece event.
However, in order to achieve this, we should all put our hands-on deck and offer the national team the maximum support that it requires in terms of the logistical, technical and financial preparations. Preparatory matches are sacrosanct and must be taken with outmost importance because these are matches that offers the coach the opportunity for trial and error since there’s no margin for error when competitions begin.
After all, we show the impact of the last AFCON qualification. Bring on June already when the qualifiers begin and four matches are set to be played.