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Will coach Tom Saintfiet alter his defensive game plan or not?

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I foresaw the Scorpions of The Gambia’s defeat to the Lions of Senegal in their AFCON inaugural match yesterday due to my discontent with the former’s playing style. When a football team rigidly adheres to a defensive strategy rather than an offensive one, its chances of winning are invariably slim. If they do manage to secure a victory, it is often attributed to sheer luck.

Identifying when a team is employing defensive tactics against an offensive opponent was glaringly evident in the Gambia-Senegal game on January 15, 2024, at the Yamoussoukro Stadium. Throughout the first half, the entire match unfolded in the Gambia’s defensive territory, with our players solely focused on clearing the ball from their half, neglecting the fundamental responsibilities of offensive players—possessing the ball, constructing attacks, and alleviating pressure on the defenders. In the end, it seemed as though our attackers had been transformed into defenders.

Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the Lions of Senegal had 65.5% possession of the ball, while the Scorpions controlled a mere 35.5% of the entire 90 minutes plus extra time. This statistic exemplifies our defensive approach.

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Who didn’t observe the disproportionate amount of time the Scorpion goalkeeper, Mr. Gaye, spent fending off the barrage of shots fired by the Lions’ attackers, while their goalkeeper scarcely touched the ball? This further underscores the unfortunate defensive strategy employed by the Gambians. If not altered, it could prove detrimental and very likely costing the Scorpions the upcoming matches against Cameroon and Guinea Conakry.

This leads me to address those who commented on my Facebook prediction regarding the Scorpions’ loss yesterday. Some argued that the Gambians played satisfactorily until they lost a player to a red card due to a dangerous foul. Ironically, the subsequent Guinea Conakry game against Cameroon completely debunked that theory. Guinea Conakry impressively survived against the Cameroonians after losing their captain to a red card for a similar dangerous foul during the first half. Thanks to their offensive game plan, the Guineans maintained good ball control and continued to threaten the five-time champions, resulting in a commendable 1-1 draw. Mamady Doumbouya must have been proud of his boys’ performance.

In comparison, the Scorpions’ defensive strategy collapsed entirely when they lost a player while on the other hand, the Guineans adjusted their offensive game to play a formidable match after losing their captain within the same period.

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Consequently, I reiterate my stance that the Scorpions may not secure a single victory and might continue to face embarrassing losses if they persist with the same defensive tactic. Currently, the Scorpions are the only team that has suffered a three-goal defeat, which is not a positive start at all. Let’s hope and pray that Tom the coach devises a winning game plan to boost our expectations and help us advance to the next round. If not, the he should be replaced promptly, preferably with a Gambian coach.

Samsudeen Sarr

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