Coach Tom Saintfiet who guided Gambia to its maiden AFCON in Cameroon this year and an eventual sixth place finish had reacted to last week’s qualifying draw for the next tournament in Ivory Coast next year. He told the GFF Media that the draw is very interesting and potentially a very competitive one. “It’s not the easiest group but also not the most difficult. I think all the four teams are at a similar level so it will be tough for all four teams because they can win against each other and they can lose against each other. There’s no one favourite. We don’t have a big footballing nation like Nigeria, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco or Senegal in our group. However Mali is good and we know that from the Afcon in Cameroon. As for Congo Brazzaville and South Sudan, they too are good footballing nations,” he said.
Tom added that his team needs to be consistent and not drop unnecessary points. “And in the end we’ll have to see if there will be enough points to see us through as one of the top two,” he said.
Saintfiet however emphasised the group is not an easy group. “I see some reactions from some people calling it an easy group but it is not. Congo Brazzaville is better ranked than us on the Fifa ranking and they’ve a good team of Europe-based professionals. Mali is naturally a good country for many years. We played against South Sudan last year and they’re not an easy opponent and developing very fast. So, we need to be focused and have respect for our opponents and not to underrate or underestimate any opponent and then we could have a fair chance to qualify. But we’ve to work for it. It won’t be that easy but we’re used to this kind of matches and as a coach I’m looking forward to starting these qualifiers,” he said.
The coach also went ahead to reveal the history between his team and the three teams in the group. “It may be interesting to know that we played all these three countries in the last two years. We met Mali in the Afcon and drew 1-1 last January and last October, we beat South Sudan 2-1 in Morocco. In October 2020 we defeated Congo Brazzaville 1-0 in Portugal. But all those were friendlies and they’re in the past. Now we’ve to look to the future and like I said it’s a very competitive group and in the end three teams will be in contention for the two available places in the group,” he said.