Africa: Tom Saintfiet Names the Gambia Squad for the Totalenergies AFCON Qualifiers

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The Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet has named his squad for the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations, Cote d’Ivoire 2023 qualifiers against South Sudan and Congo.

The Scorpions are set to face South Sudan on Saturday 4 June in Thies, Senegal before visiting Congo four days as they seek a second consecutive AFCON ticket following their history run in Cameroon.

Saintfiet has resisted any temptation to recall Alasana Manneh, Yusupha Njie and Ali Sowe in his latest squad but has brought back the fit-again duo of Ablie Jallow and Hamza Barry.

Barry, 27, returns to reignite his international career following a two and a half year absence due to a serious knee injury in late 2019.The Belgian coach says the diminutive playmaker’s return to full fitness is exciting news.

“We’re very happy with the return of Hamza Barry he’s a very good football player and yeah, I think we missed him for sure in the Africa Cup of Nations but also don’t forget there’s also the return of Ablie Jallow,” Saintfiet told CAFOnline.

“Ablie was not there against Cameroon and Chad and he has also proven before the AFCON and during the tournament to be a very important player for the team.”

Overall, however, Saintfiet has decided to go largely with the same players as he did for the preliminary matches against Chad. Lamin Jallow has been included in the 25-man squad alongside Modou Barrow, Lamin Sarr and young midfielder Sainey Njie.

“Yes, I have several players who are not available and yeah, we need to always find the balance in several positions.

“Lamin Jallow has proven in the past to be a useful player for the national team he had some good games and, okay sometimes not the performance level but that’s with every player but we miss some important wingers and we also need his experience.”

The West Africans reached the quarter-finals on their TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations debut in Cameroon early this year and they will be looking to secure a place in Cote d’Ivoire next summer.

The Scorpions boss is wary of the threat posed by their Group E opponents which also include Mali who they face at the AFCON.

“Now we have very limited time with the players and very limited time to travel and recover but, it’s the start of a qualification campaign and the expectations are high but it’s also very risky because our opponents also know us and sometimes it’s a risk that we’re too confident,” said Saintfiet.

“We need to put our feet on the ground we need to focus we need to work hard and we need to play tactically the same way we qualified.

“We’re still ranked 123rd and South Sudan for many Gambians is an easy opponent but it isn’t they’re ranked 161st that’s a ranking we had at the beginning of last year. It’s not going to be easy and Congo Brazzaville is a strong country 98th on the rankings 25 positions better than us so it will be a tough opponent.”

The Gambia will travel to Dubai this week for a training camp and play a friendly against the United Arab Emirates on May 29 before traveling to Senegal to play South Sudan.

“We have proved in the past to be competitive in tough games so, hopefully, the majority of the players will be in the Emirates to prepare the team and then we will fly to Dakar.

“Against South Sudan at home, we will try to do our best to get the maximum points and then we look forward to Congo Brazzaville.

“I think always if you can get points away from home it’s an advantage, and at home, you need to win and away you try to steal some points.

“Like I said it will be not easy and in this qualification campaign we need to keep our feet on the ground – we don’t have to think now that we are the major football country yes, we finished sixth at the AFCON but everything starts with zero and we have good quality and respected opponents.”