Super Scorpions Stung by the Lions


The Gambia's heroic first foray into the finals of the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations came to an end in Douala today with a 2-0 quarter-final defeat to hosts Cameroon.

Ranked 150th in the world, the little West African country (population 1.8 million), the smallest in the continent, was comfortably the lowest-rated team in the finals, so to have reached the last eight on their first qualification was an incredible achievement.

Super Scorpions Stung by the Lions.

I was delighted because I had spent a wonderful month teaching in the country some years ago, playing football with the kids on the beach every day. I did not see any football facilities worth their salt there so I was amazed when I saw Gambia had qualified because I had them down as a perennial nonachiever in football. 

To be fair they did qualify for two U-17 World Cups in 2005 and 2009 and one U-20 World Cup in 2007.

But a very small country where half the population lives in poverty is always going to struggle at qualification, hence the amazing run to the last eight in Cameroon. The street parties in the capital Banjul must have been something else.

Having made it to Cameroon, to everyone's surprise the Scorpions, coached by Belgian Tom Saintfiet, finished second on goal difference in Group F, beating Mauritania (ranked 103rd) and Tunisia (30th) and drawing with Mali.

In the round of 16 Gambia eliminated Guinea (81st) before falling before Cameroon (50th). The Indomitable Lions dominated the match and would have netted more but for the Scorpions' gargantuan custodian, German-born Baboucarr Gaye, who should be on the radar of some big teams.

"There were tears in the locker room but Gambia and its players can be proud of the course, we will bounce back very quickly," said Saintflet afterwards.

Their squad has players based in 16 countries, typical for African teams, including Salford City and Forest Green Rovers. Skipper Pa Modou Jagne plays in the Swiss fifth tier for FC Dietikon. Former Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday striker Mark Bright, whom I got to interview for Soccerphile, could have represented them, as his father was from there.

Cameroon look a good bet for the trophy now but will have to beat the winner of tomorrow's North African derby between Egypt and Morocco, in Yaounde on Wednesday.

Africa Cup of Nations


Saturday 29th January

Gambia 0:2 Cameroon

Burkina Faso v Tunisia

Sunday 30th January

Egypt v Morocco

Senegal v Equatorial Guinea

Afcon 2017 in Gabon

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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