By: Famara Badjie and Pa Barrow
The Gambia national team (The Scorpions) went into their final group game knowing a win, draw or defeat would be enough to take them to the knockout stages of the Africa Cup of Nations in their first-ever participation.
In the event, they exceeded their wildest dreams with a performance of discipline that sent disappointing Tunisia to third place with their tails between their legs. The Scorpions showed that one opportunity was all that was needed to demonstrate and orchestrate their game plan when substitute Ablie Jallow unleashed a last gasp strike into the top roof deep into the stoppage time.
In their second group game, Tunisia had been masters of the midfield, out-thinking and outnumbering Mauritania which saw them put four goals past the minnows, that was proof of their positive, refreshing approach.
Yet against the Gambia, Mondher Kebaier’s side came up against a completely static but tactically different team. The Scorpions brilliantly denied Tunisia the space that they so ruthlessly exploited against Mauritania.
Even though at the stroke of halftime, Tunisia should have been in front when captain Pa Modou Jagne was penalised for a foul in the box, but goalkeeper Babucarr Gaye proved why he’s too good for the bench as he dived right to save Seifeddine Jaziri’s penalty and keep the scoreline intact for the Gambia.
By a means of response, the Scorpions who were cautious with their approach came close in a dead ball situation when the brilliant dead-ball specialist Musa Barrow saw his freekick agonisingly hit the frame.
Then the Scorpions were still wedded to safety and Tom Saintfiet keeps throwing defenders and some quick feet like Babucarr Jobe and Ablie Jallow to the game. Those tactical switches ultimately paid off in the stoppages, when Babucarr Jobe ran to a pass in the Tunisian box and connects with Musa Barrow who squares a pass to the diminutive Ablie Jallow who controls well before unleashing a sublime left-footed strike into the top roof to earned the debutants a vital win against the 2004 champions.
A disappointed Mondher Kebaier the coach of the Tunisia national said it was a very difficult preparation for his side as they lost several players.
“We lost 12 of our players who were tested positive for covid before this game, but our opponents also played very well from start to finish. We will go back and prepared ourselves for the round of 16 and hopefully, we will have our full squad ready before our next game,’ He said.
The otherwise full of smile Tom Saintfiet of the Gambia said, he is very happy for the tactical discipline of his players throughout the game.
“We are sometimes criticised by the local media for our team selection and our football but this is the tactic we started with three years ago and it’s working for us. We will continue with it as it saves a lot of energy for the players. With this formation we have scored a couple of goals in stoppage time when our opponent are tired and that helps us a lot”, the Belgian said.
The Gambia will now play against Guinea Conakry in Bafousam stadium on Monday the 24th January 2022 whiles Tunisia who finishes as one of the best third-place teams in the tournament will take on Nigeria.