January 29th, 2022, the scoreboard at Japoma Stadium read: Gambia 0 Cameroon 2. Two second-half goals from Karl Toko Ekambi ended a fairytale journey for the Scorpions. A debut Nations Cup appearance that brought so much joy to the more than two-million Gambians at home and in the diaspora ended in defeat to host Nation, Cameroon.The Scorpions left Cameroon brimming with confidence going into the next round of qualifiers, knowing fully-well that an expectant nation wouldn’t settle for anything other than another crack at a second Afcon tournament. This set of players though tend to do things on their own terms. Remember the dramatic win over fellow West African side Guinea. The odd-uninspiring yet result-driven games masterminded by the Coach, Tom Saintfiet. The Belgian and his team continue to defy logic in providing the right formula in building a winning team.Next up for the Gambia Scorpions is to find out who they will face in the draw for the 2023 Afcon in Ivory Coast. But, should the Scorpions fear any country? GRTS looks at five (5) key issues for facing the Scorpions ahead of the draw and the tournament.1. Media Campaign: With Gambia among the twenty-four countries vying for the AFCON 2023 trophy in Ivory Coast, the main focus off-field is how to raise significant funds for the National Team. If we learnt anything from the Cameroon expedition, it has to be the strategic media engagement by the members of the Fund-raising committee. They employed aggressive methods in reaching out to the public and the awareness-raising campaign was successful. The public media played an important role in this endeavor. More of the same for the coming campaign!!!2. Fundraising: How do we raise funds for the national team? Is there an allocated budget for the Gambia’s participation in the AFCON 2023 tournament? How about a rerun of the Road to Afcon Fundraising Dinner, which was a huge success? In the coming weeks and months, a lot will be riding on the next move by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Gambia Football Federation. The Gambia do not have a bottomless pit full of money yet, smart decisions and proper coordination helped deliver some needed cash for the National Team in the last Nations Cup participation. No last-minute scrambles to set-up a Fundraising team!!!3. The Squad: Coach Tom Saintfiet is spoilt for choices when it comes to the number of players carrying Gambian passports or those of Gambian roots. The Gambia is blessed with talented players. We have always had talented players, but, the Gambia of 2023 has so many players playing in top leagues across Europe and now in the cash-rich Saudi Pro League. Coach Saintfiet, despite this luxury, remains consistent in moulding a core group of talented players who are providing him the right results from day one. More players will be invited to the squad, but Coach Saintfiet’s battle-hardened core group will be crucial to our chances of progressing from our group. The Players will deliver!!!!4. Key Players: Assessing who a key player is in Tom Saintfeit’s team could pose a challenge to even the most accomplished football expert. But there is a Messi in Argentina. A Ronaldo in a Portugal side. And how about Tom Saintfiet’s side? This Gambia side is built on the power of the collective. The Belgian’s tactics make it easy for the team to thrive. Not a bad idea, considering, the team continues to defy logic in navigating numerous hazardous situations in qualifiers and during tournaments. The Squad though has some match winners and they are coming good at the right time ahead of the tournament. Right across the spine of the team, we have some of our most important players: Safe hands: Baboucarr Gaye, remains number one. In defence, young James Gomez is a towering presence alongside Captain Omar Colley. In midfield, Hamza Barry provides the creative spark for the team, and in attack, Coach Sainfiet has an array of talent to choose from: Ablie Jallow, Assan Ceesay, Musa Barrow, and Muhammed Badamosi all providing the coach with different options. But, the future of Gambian football rests on the young shoulders of the mercurial talents of Yankuba Minteh. He is the rising star of Gambian football!!!5. The Draw: Who do we fancy in the draw? The Gambia will enter this draw on the back of a truly dramatic end to the qualifying campaign in Group G with two late goals to secure a place in the Afcon 2023 tournament. It confirms Gambia's second straight appearance at a Nations Cup tournament following the Scorpions' impressive showing in Cameroon in 2022. The Scorpions will be joining some stellar names for the draw including defending Champions and neighbours, Senegal. The Teranga Lions will be gunning for a second straight championship victory but they will be facing a stiff challenge from the likes of Nigeria, host nation, Ivory Coast, alongside the North African contingent of Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt. The Gambia Scorpions though are going into the tournament in buoyant mood!!!
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