By: Bubacarr Fallaboweh
The Gambia senior national team (Scorpions) will be making their second successive African Nations Cup if they avoid a defeat on Sunday against the Republic of Congo.
The Red Devils won in the first leg, while the Gambia sits in second position with 9 points. The Gambia has recorded five wins in Morocco, with two in Marrakech.
Congo’s last African Cup of Nations was in 2015 in Equatorial Guinea, where they reached the Quarter-finals but missed the 2017, 2019, and 2021 editions.
The Republic of Congo’s current form is LLWL, while for the Gambia is DLWW. The Scorpion’s offensive department will fancy exploiting the Congolese, who have conceded seven goals so far, while the Scorpions have just let in four goals.
Thievy Bifouma, who has 16 goals in 40 matches for Congo, is poised to make a difference as one of the players who played in the Nations Cup 2015. He is pivotal to Paul Put’s plans and game tactics. The France-born, who currently plays for AE Kifisias in Greece, has only scored one goal in the qualifier against South Sudan.
Ablie Jallow is the engine in Tom Saintfiet’s Prey to break and unlock opponents. Assan Ceesay is yet to score in the qualifiers and is on a goal drought for the national team, but the Scorpions have seen three different scorers in the last four matches, with Ablie Jallow scoring two out of the four goals. Anybody can miss the game except Ablie Jallow, which led Tom to go head to head with Metz medical staff after the match with Stade de Reims, where Ablie Jallow scored two minutes upon his introduction. The goal-scoring task will be divided. A third of the current 23-man squad of Gambia has found the back of the net this season. Hamza Barry is back on his feet playing the last three qualifiers while rocking 527 minutes in Vejle’s last six league matches.
Sulayman Marreh will be a big miss; his experience is vital, as he has been on the team for a long. He rarely misses a game, even though he has been having injuries in the past. Tom will likely go with Ebou Adams of Cardiff City in holding midfield to be supported by Alasana Manneh and, in front of them, potentially Hamza Barry.
We have to approach to win; the risk in coming to the draw is that you will lose if you don’t have a draw. The Gambia has an edge over Congo, and if they perform well, they can put the game to bed in the First half. But if they want to defend, they will charge throughout and might concede at the end.
Tom Saintfiet dilemma
Will he play Musa Barrow, Ablie Jallow, and Ebrima Colley from Start? The trio is not fit compared to previous matches, mainly due to injury. The available options are Alieu Fadera, Yankuba Minteh, and Abdoulie Sanyang. The optimal solution is for Tom to rest the trio and release them from the 60th minute to avoid losing either Ablie Jallow or Musa Barrow in the match’s early stages.
What did the managers say?
“It’s a very important game for the Gambia at large. We tasted Afcon two years ago, which was very sweet; we want to return. We faced a strong opponent, a good African team with a good coach in Congo. So, it will be a tough task on Sunday. We were prepared to play naturally in the Gambia, behind the crowd, but it’s disappointing that we couldn’t play there. We have a positive mindset playing in Marrakech and will work hard. Sulayman Marreh is a fantastic player, always present in my five-year tenure; it’s a big miss. We will do everything for Sulayman to qualify also.”
“We play for our qualification in this match. In football, qualification does not always get ripped off at the beginning of the competition; it can be taken on the last game. You’re capable of it; just be motivated. When I see you playing in your clubs, I feel the motivation and desire to play, but with Congo, I do not feel the same desire or favor. And on this match, I asked you to have fun to qualify; you can do it.”
The Cup of Nations will begin on 13 January 2024, with the final on 11 February.