AFCON 2023 Qualifiers: Gambia Will Remain Focused Despite Tricky Group – Coach Saintfiet

AFCON 2023 Qualifiers: Gambia Will Remain Focused Despite Tricky Group – Coach Saintfiet

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By Ebube Dike

Gambia Coach, Tom Saintfiet have disclosed that the Scorpions will remain focused despite being paired in a “difficult group” in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON qualifying group, can report.

The Scorpions who hope to make a second straight appearance at the biennial continental football showpiece in Ivory Coast next year are drawn in Group G alongside Mali, Congo Brazzaville and South Sudan.

The Belgian, who guided Gambia to its maiden AFCON in Cameroon and an eventual sixth place finish said contrary to report that the group is an easy one, noted that though there are no established power houses in Africa Football such as Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia in the group, he will not be complacent when the battles begin in June

“It’s a very interesting draw and I think it is a very competitive one. It’s not the easiest group but also not the most difficult. I think all the four teams are at a similar level so it will be tough for all four teams because they can win against each other and they can lose against each other.

The Scorpions had impressive debut in AFCON 2021 in Cameroon.

“There’s no one favourite. We don’t have a major country like Nigeria, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco or Senegal in our group but Mali is good, we know from the AFCON and also Congo Brazzaville and South Sudan are also good footballing nations. It will be important to be consistent and not to drop unnecessary points and, in the end, we’ll have to see if they’re enough points to see us through as one of the top two,” he said.

While assessing the group teams based on their FIFA ranking, Mr Saintfiet they will not underrate any of their opponents in the six matches they will play.

“But it’s not an easy group; I see some reactions from some people as an easy group but it isn’t. Congo Brazzaville is better ranked than us on the FIFA Ranking and they’ve a good team of European-based professionals. Mali is naturally a good country for many years, 50th in the world and South Sudan we played against them last year and they’re developing very well and it’s not an easy opponent.

“So, we need to be focused and have respect for our opponents not to underrate or underestimate any opponent and then we’ve a fair chance to qualify but we’ve to work for it because it will not be given to us.

“It won’t be that easy but we’re used to this kind of matches and as a coach I’m looking forward to starting these qualifiers. It may be nice to know that we played all these three countries in the last two years.”

In the last two years, Gambia had played some group opponents – drew 1-1 and last October in Morocco won 2-1 against South Sudan and in October 2020 they defeated Congo Brazzaville 1-0 in Portugal in friendly encounters.

Although these are past records Mr Saintfiet noted, the Scorpions who played enterprising, energetic football at the AFCON 2021 in Morocco but lost to host Cameroon in the quarter-final, reckons that the group would be very competitive

“But those are friendlies and they’re in the past, now we’ve to look to the future and like I said it’s a very competitive group and it’ll be close in the end between three countries, I guess”

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