By: Foday Manneh
The Gambia scored a 79th-minute goal from Captain Omar Colley to beat Mali 1-0 in the return leg of their 2023 AFCON qualifiers — ending a 22-year wait to win against the Eagles since they last did so in 2001.
The scorpions’ head coach Tom Sainfeit made three changes in his lineup that started in the 2-0 disappointing defeat away to the same opponent four days ago.
Unlike the first leg, the first half of Tuesday’s match showed a much-improved game of football in both possession and chances taken by the scorpions compared to Friday’s match which they went into the break with no shot nor hitting the target.
The Malians again attempted to score an early goal as they did in the first leg. However, this time it went wrong for the Eagles as RB Salzburg’s striker Sekou Koita’s closed and deadly left-footed free kick slightly hit the crossbar just 6 minutes into the game.
Four minutes later, Musa Barrow received a counter ball from Salford City FC skipper Ibou Touray, but his curled shot went straight into the hands of the opponent’s shot-stopper.
With a minute to finish the first period, Musa again delivered a free kick straight to Alieu Fadera, who squared the ball for Ali Sowe in front of a vulnerable Malian net. However, the Ankaragurucu striker missed it closely despite a belated offside call.
Both teams went into the break with little-balanced match statistics.
The Malian gaffer Eric Chelle made two quick substitutions in the first 10 minutes of the restart, eventually placing massive pressure on the scorpions. The Eagles were searching for a win or at least maintain the draw at the time, which could book their place in Ivory Coast 2024.
Seconds before entering into the last 10 minutes of the game, Ebrima Colley lifted a free kick from the far corner and was headed home by team captain Omar Colley to score the only but decisive goal as his first for The Gambia on his 44th appearance — becoming the player with most caps for his country.
The win means The Gambia has now delayed Mali’s qualification and moved to second on the Group G table with 6 points leveled with Congo while having two more games to go against the latter and another group opponent South Sudan in June and September, respectively.