Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet is under no illusion that his Scorpions would make an easy return to the club of elite African teams to play in the next African Nations Cup finals despite beating South Sudan in the first match of the qualifiers on Saturday. Addressing the press soon after walking out of the pitch at Latdior Stadium in Thies, Senegal, where his boys hosted the Bright Stars of South Sudan, Saintfiet brushed aside suggestions that with the victory Gambia can begin to be assured of a place in the next AFCON. “This is not going to be a stroll in the park. For one to come out from this group one must at least have 12 points. That could easily translate to winning all your three home matches. Even at the best of times, this is not easy and we have seen a scenario where even that alone could prove not enough. I think the focus should be to take each match with equal vigor as we go along.
It is good that we are going to Congo Brazzaville with three points and may be one or more points can be secured in that one too on Wednesday,” he said.
The Gambia coach said even though some players did not turn up in Senegal for one reason or the other, he is satisfied with what the boys have achieved. He admitted a difficult second half though for the Gambian side which came out of jail from a Sudanese onslaught to hang on to the slender lead established in dying minutes of the first half. The men from Juba were determined to cause trouble for the Scorpions from the word go but the Gambia managed to control the attacking prowess of their opponents and should have done better in the first-half when they also had opportunities to score more goals.
Their victory was sealed just before the break when Musa Barrow played Aboulie Jallow, better known by his moniker Germano, who did not waste time to blast a shot beyond fast approaching goalkeeper Juma Jenard Awad of South Sudan.
The Gambia are now equal on three points with Mali who beat Congo 4-0 in the group’s other game of the day. The Scorpions travel to face Congo while Mali plays South Sudan on Wednesday.
Saturday’s match which could not be played in Banjul for lack of decent facilities proved a logistical nightmare for the Gambia Football Federation but it ended in a spectacular experience for the country’s passionate fraternity who crossed the border to cheer the team in Thies.” Our objective was to provide an environment very close to what we would have in Banjul on international match days. So, we negotiated and got approval to play in Senegal and Thies proved to be the easiest in terms of logistics and also because of the fact that Senegal is using their main stadium the same day. So, once we got approval of the Thies stadium we moved to turn it into a small Banjul. The GFF made provisions for all protocols to be accorded to South Sudan as our guests and collaborated with the Senegalese federation to ensure we feel like operating in our own home soil,” said Bakary Jammeh, First Vice President of the GFF.
He said the GFF Events Management Committee coordinated a hitch-free arrangement both in Thies and Banjul to ensure fans, media and officials access the stadium easily. Hundreds of Gambian fans were packaged by both the GFF and GSM Company Africell to cheer the team.