Coach Tom Saintfiet

The Gambia national team head coach Tom Saintfiet admits that it’s tough to prepare and play in the preliminary stages of the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations.

The Scorpions will play against Chad on Wednesday in Yaoundé at 16:00 GMT in the preliminaries for the 2023 AFCON in Cote d’Ivoire despite their brilliant performance at this year’s tournament in Cameroon.

“It’s very tough to play pre-qualification for both teams, and it is very stressful because you can lose in these matches, if you win it’s normal if you lose it’s a scandal,” Saintfiet told journalists at his pre-match news conference.

“For us, it’s [the matches] very important we tasted the AFCON and we want to go back.

“For me, these are the most difficult matches of the year; these are more difficult games than the ones we faced at AFCON.”

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) banned the Independence Stadium as it does not meet its standards to host international matches.

It means the Scorpions, who reached the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, will have to play the home leg of their preliminary qualifier for the 2023 Nations Cup finals against Chad on 29 March in Agadir, Morocco.

“Playing in Cameroon against Chad and playing in Morocco against Chad is naturally a very strange situation,” Saintfiet said.

“We played exactly 12-months ago at home against Angola when we qualified for our first AFCON and it’s a little bit strange that we can’t play right now at home.

“It would’ve been fantastic to play after our AFCON with the support of our fans.

“Especially knowing that our Gambian fans are looking forward to seeing their heroes, their players and to celebrate them and support them and it’s a very sad situation.

“It’s never an advantage to play away from home your home matches but we will see we can’t change it. We need to do everything to be there in the qualification we can’t drop the level now but it would be a very tough match.”

The Belgian and his charges trained at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaoundé on Tuesday to prepare for today’s crucial match.

The former Togo and Namibia coach will be without captain Omar Colley and Ablie Jallow scorer of The Gambia’s first-ever goal at an AFCON through injury.

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