The dramatic story of the Gambia Under-20 footballers in the just ended Wafu Zone A tournament marks a return of the good old days in Gambian youth football, the mid and late 2000s. Those years, marked by two continental Under-17 titles in the space of four years remains the glorious days of Gambian football. The country just burst onto the podium picking her first title in 2005 when even her ability to successfully host the tourney was in doubt, let alone to win the cup. The continent watched with amazement as the tiny nation announced its arrival on the continental stage. But while most regarded that as a fluke, helped by an excited gigantic home crowd, the Baby Scorpions as the Under 17 is known, put up and even more flamboyant show in the world series in Peru, beating Brazil on the pitch and highjacking a plane en route, forcing the world to take stock.
The country picked a second continental title in Algeria and became former President Jammeh’s millionaires. Excitement was in the air and even though the senior national team could not come near the achievements of the younger boys, the Gambian fans had always believed the big day will come. It is yet to come but because we have to get to the club of the big boys, the CAN to come full circle.
Having said that, the second Wafu title and the ticket to the next Africa Under-20 is a laudable achievement about which the country is proud. The fact should not be overlooked that the victory at Wafu was also more of an individual brilliance by Coach Matar Mboge who saw his team’s 5-1 first match defeat against Senegal as a set back and not a march through the exit door. His ability to regroup and inspire his team to lay hands on the ultimate prize, his second in two years, is commendable. With qualification now secured for the Africa Under -20, Matar Mboge must again realise that his job is cut out for him already. The Gambia’s history in this championship is impressive having taken bronze and making an appearance at the world series.
The next step should be closer to the final in Mauritania next year. In this crusade, Matar and his team need the utmost attention and support from the Gambia Football Federation and the Gambia government in particular. The mission should be accomplished with everyone on board. Securing qualification to the African youth championship with a potential to reach the world championship is no mean feat and surely, not a child’s play. While we join the entire country in welcoming the boys as Wafu champions, we wish coach Matar Mboge and his lads greater success in Mauritania next year.