Tom Saintfeit discusses the AFCON 2023 draw, Gambia’s Chances, World Cup qualifiers & Early Preparation

Tom Saintfeit

By Lamin Fadera

When the 34th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations begins in the Ivory Coast on January 13th, 2023, The Gambia will be among the 24 nations participating in the flagship tournament.

Since his appointment in 2018, Tom Sainfeit has won a massive 18 games, drew nine matches, and lost 11. During this period, he guided the Scorpions to a consecutive qualification to the tournament following their maiden campaign in Cameroon 2021. 

In last Thursday’s group stage draw, the Gambia was in the group of death. The Gambia is paired with defending champions Senegal, last AFCON semifinalist, Cameroon, and Guinea Conakry.

The Belgian-born gaffer, Tom Saintfeit, said he is ready for the uphill task ahead of his team in the AFCON competition. 

He explained that it is not impossible to qualify for the last sixteen; he said Gambia can win Senegal and other teams in the group.

“So it is always nice to meet Senegal; I have seen in the last 14 competitive games that we haven’t beaten them. I noticed Gambia never won Senegal in the last 30 or 40 years. It is nice, it gives them motivation and courage to compete with these people”.

“In our matches against Cameroon and Senegal, we will try our best and win them to write more history. It is an extra motivation to win them to write more history. We need to be well-prepared; we hope our players will be fit at the club level before the AFCON so that we are ready for this task. But it is an interesting task, and I am ready that we play them; we can see how strong we are,” he said. 

World Cup Qualifiers

The FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers are set to begin in November. Scorpions’ Coach, Tom Saintfeit, said that his ultimate dream now is to qualify the Gambia for the global tournament for the first time in the country’s history.

“You know we also have dreams of going to the World Cup in 2026; I said that some years ago, and I made interim plans with the Gambia Football Federation about it. So a good start will be important also to the run to that dream in the World Cup qualifiers,” Tom said.

Following the draw of the AFCON 2023 in Abidjan, most people are focused on the African flagship competition in the Ivory Coast. However, Coach Tom Saintfeit is still working on the dream to qualify the Scorpions for the first-ever World Cup tournament in 2026.

The Gambia National Team

He said it would be essential to start the World Cup qualifiers with a win against Burundi, and a point against the elephants of the Ivory Coast will set them on a suitable pathway.

“Burundi will not be an easy team; remember, they beat Namibia in the qualification. Namibia is already in the AFCON, so they shouldn’t be underestimated. Another difficult game is Ivory Coast, so it will be interesting. A good start will be important; we are analyzing our opponent, and hopefully, we want to win, and a good start will be important,” Tom told The Alkamba Times Sports.

Early Preparation AFCON

Going to competition training camps and early Preparation is essential for teams to have better performance and chemistry. 

Tom highlighted that teams need more work to get their players on time. These players belong to clubs and can only be released on FIFA official dates for players to go for AFCON duties.

“No one is going to start Preparation earlier; everyone has professional players related to clubs and would be released on December 27th or maybe even January 3rd as the last AFCON. So, we are all limited by the rules of FIFA. So they will not be ahead of us. We are all planning what to do before leaving in January. We want to play. We have already detected three areas where we would like to go and do the training camp. Still, naturally, it all depends on our available budget. We already detected some countries we want to in friendlies,” Tom said.

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