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Gambia coach speaks on Afcon opener against champions

With about three weeks to go before the Gambia and Senegal meet in the Africa Cup of Nations in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet has said group opponents like Senegal and the rest are under more pressure than his side in this year’s tournament.

He admitted though that this second appearance of the Scorpions will be more difficult than the 2021 edition in Cameroon where his team reached the quarter finals.

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Speaking in an interview with Afrik-foot, Gambia Saintfiet said The Gambia belongs to the group of death which include reigning African champion, Senegal and last edition’s semifinalist Cameroon, two great footballing countries who played in the last World Cup in Qatar.

“There is also Guinea with one of the best scorers in the German Championship Sehrou Guirassy.

So, it’s a very difficult group. But as a coach, with my team, we never approach a match with the idea of ??losing; we want to win every match, to qualify for the second round and we know that it will be more difficult than the last time,” Saintfiet said.

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He said while The Gambia was a surprise package in Cameroon, ‘today everyone knows our qualities.’

“We also have a few injured players as well as players without a club; we only have three players in the first division of the eight best leagues in Europe. We do not have high-level systems like Senegal, Cameroon, and Guinea. So, we are not the same team of last Afcon,” Saintfiet lamented.

But he said he and his team will start this tournament with an ambition to work miracles. “’We are very realistic, we know that it will be very difficult, but we will go there to achieve good results,” he said.

He continued to explain his side’s challenges: “There are players like the former As Roma, Ebrima Darboe, injured for more than a year but    has started again two weeks ago and maybe he will be ready. In total five players who were at Can 2021 will not be available this time round as some have even stopped playing football while others have not found a club. But I’m not the type of coach to look for excuses. We will make do with the players available and do everything possible to achieve good results, even if we know that we are not one of the favorite.”

Saintfiet said pressure is more on Senegal, Guinea, and Cameroon as ‘we will do everything on our side to create a surprise’. “My team has proven before that it’s not the names of the players that matter. We played Guinea and won with players from only the 4th division in Switzerland, and Sweden. Imagine winning against a team with almost all players from top leagues in Europe. Everything is possible.”

On The Gambia finishing among the three finalists teams of the year at Caf awards, Saintfiet said: “It’s something special, a great honor and I am very proud of our work, of my staff, of my players, but also of my Federation. It is something unique to be ranked alongside large countries like Senegal and Morocco. We don’t know if this will happen again in the future.”

Translated and written from Galsenfoot

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