By Momodou Bah
Young Scorpions coach Mattar M’Boge, who recently won the WAFU A championship, securing a place in next year’s Africa U-20 Cup of Nations finals too, has said the Gambia Football Federation and Ministry of Youth and Sports need to step up in terms of support ahead of the event, ttaking place in Mauritania next year.
The 40-year-old, who first won the Wafu title in Liberia in 2018 made these comments after the triumphant return of the team from Thies, Senegal.
The Young Scorpions had a difficult preparation for the sub regional tournament, with plans for an international training camp and friendlies aborted for lack of funds.
“You t said the next challenge was to go to the next U-20 AFCON. Now we want to challenge you as well to step up in terms of the support, because we have done what we can with what we had, even though it could still be better,” the Loughborough University graduate told a news briefing at Football House.
“Imagine if it was better, maybe we won’t have needed extra time or penalties to beat the guys in the final. Maybe we would have scored more goals, but listen we’re very grateful we’re very appreciative because we know where we come from,” he said.
M’Boge said his team started preparations just over a month before their opening fixture against Senegal. That Senegambia derby ended in a heavy 5-1 defeat for the Gambia which M’Boge called a dark day.
“The first game was a dark day but after darkness must come the light, and that’s what we told these players,” he said.
The rejuvenated Young Scorpions edged out Sierra Leone 2-1 in their following match to make the last four and booked a date with high flying Guinea who they defeated 2-1 to set up an epic final against host nation Senegal.
With the 5-1 defeat fresh in their minds, the Young Scorpions drew first blood in the much hyped final through Habibou Mendy’s close range effort.
The host levelled the score on the stroke of half-time before Kajally Drammeh restored the Scorpions’ lead with a low drive midway through the second period. Youssouph Dabo’s side equalised for the second time through Libasse Gueye’s well-placed shot to force the final into extra-time and a subsequent breath-taking penalty shoot-out to decide the winner of the championship.
Real de Banjul keeper Lamin Saidy was the Gambia’s hero in the post-match shoot-out saving two consecutive spot kicks before Ibrahima Drame hit the post, leading to the Young Scorpions victory in Senegal.
The Class of 2020 is Mattar’s third U-20 selection and the former Real de Banjul title winning boss was full of praise for his youngsters.
“It’s also correct to say they’re not stars now but for me they’re my heroes and they’re legends in my book,” he added.
“If you know the details, if you know how we started with all the challenges, these boys have come through and we’ve just been fighting, going through the walls, staying positive giving them positive spirit. For the 22 players to come and allow me to have this (Coach of the Tournament) award, to me I want to build them statues right now for what they have achieved. We also have to recognise what these boys have done, it’s really is a miracle, and it’s also a very, very beautiful story and I want on their behalf to say that they deserve every single reward that is going to come their way and more. Let it continue and we look forward to it InshAllah,” Mboge said.
The WAFU A zone has some of the biggest names in African football, and M’Boge believes it is one of the most competitive on the continent.
Senegal which hosted the recent WAFU A U-20 tournament has, been to the final of the last three consecutive Africa U-20 Cup of Nations in 2015, 2017 and 2019.
“When you consider it’s the host country not just any host country, it’s Senegal. The last three, Africa U-20 Cup of Nations finals, they’ve gone there, this team that we beat in the final.
“ Take Mali too, they’re the current champions (AFCON U-20) and we have the strongest zone in the whole of Africa in terms of wins, appearances along with the other part of West Africa.”
The Gambia became the first side to join host Mauritania for the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations which kicks off in February 2021.
Uganda and Tanzania confirmed their places from the CECAFA region whiles the COSAFA and WAFU B tournaments are on-going.
“As you’ve set the task already for the boys before we went to the tournament, we asked them what they wanted from the tournament; they said coach we want to bring the trophy home. The boys told me, coach don’t worry about it go to sleep even if we have to die on the pitch we will do it to win the trophy and that’s exactly what they did. Now I know what they’re going to say if we ask them about the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations, therefore our job then is to support them as much as we can. As for the ones behind us, let’s also push as much as we can and God willing we will get everything we want,” he said
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) earlier this year increased the teams from 8 to 12 starting from the next championship in Mauritania.
The tournament will also serve as the continent’s qualifier for the 2021 FIFA U-20 World Cup to be held in Indonesia.