Players Selection, Fidelity, and Stability: How Tom Saintfeit is preparing For AFCON 2023 qualifiers


By Lamin Fadera

After an impressive debut campaign in the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon last January, Tom Saintfeit led the scorpions to the last eight finishing in his first attempt in the competition.

The Belgian was appointed as scorpions coach in July 2018 and has a contract with the Gambia until 2026. Ahead of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast, the Gambia is prepared to play its home matches in Thies Senegal after the independent stadium was banned by CAF to host matches.

Head coach tom Saintfeit told Alkamba Times about the upcoming international friendly, AFCON qualifiers, player selection, and his plans ahead of other qualifiers.

On the Friendly

The Gambia is set to play the United Arab Emirates on the 29th of May 2022 coach Tom said it is important to play the Friendly.

He said their initial plan was to play the qualifiers on a different day but the date changed that’s why it was significant to play a Friendly before the qualifiers begin.

 ’Yea some players are still playing others are on holiday, We were hoping to play our home match in Dakar on the 7th or the 8th but that was not possible. We have limited time to prepare so am very happy about the international friendly. United Arab Emirates is a strong team 68th in the FIFA ranking; they are still in the running for the world cup playoff. Play that game it gives us more time to prepare against south Sudan.

Players Selection

Over the past 4 years, Tom Saintfeit received so much public outcry and criticism over player selection in the national team. When asked what criteria he uses in his team selection, the 49-year-old Belgian told Afri Radio that he follows social media and what is going on online.


Coach Tom Saintfiet

He said some Gambian Journalists and the public know little about his players and some have their favorite players, when they are not selected they always complain.

” I think there is more question about which player is not there, but that shows little the majority of the media and the public follow their players. Let me say because I also follow very closely, Steve Trawally recovered from an injury. I spoke to him and he requested not to be called up, he wants to focus to get more game time with his club first before he gets action for the national team. so that he will be prepared for the national team. He played his first 20 minutes this weekend, before that he was out for two months.

Ebrima Colley is out injured, Ebou Adams called off himself he said he is injured, Ali Sowe is already four weeks injured before that he played the last six months in the Russian league and scored only one goal, Saidy Janko he requested not to be called up because he want to focus on the promotional game with Real Valladolid, Noah Sonko Sundberg has some medical issue and he excuses himself seeking doctor advice and many more. So is very important before we question selection we follow and know which activities, and the fitness of players,’’Saintfiet said.

 Hamza Barry Recalled

The return of midfielder Hamza Barry is a great boost to the team according to the coach Tom Saintfeit, the former Hadjuk Split player was out for more than a year with a serious knee injury but he is now back playing football in the United States of America with Loss Angeles Galaxy team.

Tom highlighted that the 27-year-old midfield maestro Hamza will add balance to the squad together with Abdoulie Jallow in the heart of midfield.

‘Hamza is a very good midfielder and his coming back will add balance to the squad, Abdoulie Jallow was not available in our last game against Chad but he is now back and this will help the team when it comes to the ball position, the style of play and the balance in the team.’’

Sulayman Marreh and Ebrima Darboe get a few minutes

Despite playing three games for Gent in the Belgian pro league 2021/22 season the former Samger midfielder together with Ebrima Darboe who played one match under Jose Mourinho at AS Roma both players are called up to play for the Gambia. 

Tom Saintfeit has different views with his critics ahead of the qualifier for AFCON in Ivory Coast 2023 with the selection of players that has few games at the expense of others.

” Is not about the minutes you play, the coach in your club cannot like you, a coach in a club can play different systems, different tactics, some agents are involved in influencing coaches in clubs, so I have no control over that. I prefer the player to play, for me the most important thing is what the player delivers in the national team duties.

 Sulayman Marreh didn’t play but he was among the best midfielders in the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon. So there is no correlation between national team duties and club football for me, a player can play in a lower league or a higher league but what is more important is a player who suits my tactics.

Naturally, I will our players play more but I have no control what coaches do in their club, they can play players for different reasons ‘’ Tom emphasized.

AFCON qualifiers 2023

The Gambia will begin its quest for the second appearance in the AFCON and Coach Tom Saintfiet said he will want to be in the next competition as well.

” In the last competition we all have the sweet taste of the competition and we all want more but we need to be cautious, in 2021 no one expected us to qualify and we took first in our group in the qualifying rounds.

In the cup of the nation, we surprise everyone in the competition and beat the likes of Tunisia, Guinea, and Mauritania. We finished as the sixth best team in Africa and our FIFA rankings also improve after the competition.

But sometimes that is not realistic and is also very dangerous for example look at Madagascar and Burundi who had a fantastic debut AFCON in 2019 and couldn’t qualify for the 2021 edition.

Our aim is naturally to qualify; we have Mali in our group who has a better FIFA ranking than us, we have Congo Brazzaville as well who is better than us in The FIFA rankings and also a strong nation, and South Sudan who is in the same position as we were in 2021, so there is no easy game, our ambition is to return to the AFCON this year’’Tom Saintfeit said.

The Gambia is set to plan an international friendly against The united Arab Emirates on the 29th May 2022 in Dubai before they open their AFCON qualifiers against South Sudan on the 4th June 2022 at home in Thies Senegal.

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