By Momodou Jarju
Gambians are buzzing as for the first time in history The Gambia will be represented at the Total Energies AFCON (Africa Cup of Nations) 2021 in Cameroon.
Already, the Scorpions of The Gambia have landed in Douala, Cameroon last Friday and will begin preparation to sting at the Afcon showpiece.
For decades, the Scorpions have been searching to qualify to the continent’s flagship football tournament to no avail. But that try and cry ended in 2021. It was on Thursday 25 March 2021 when the good news made the headlines globally.
“The Scorpions are to sting in Cameroon!” The Confederation of African Football (CAF) tweeted in confirmation of Gambia’s qualification for the first time to the continental tournament.
The showpiece will see 24 qualified teams, divided into groups of four, battle it out for the championship crown. The tournament, which is in its 33rd edition, starts from 9 January to 6 February 2022.
The Scorpions are pitted against Tunisia, Mali and Mauritania in Group F, following the draw for the final tournament held on Tuesday 17 August in Yaounde, Cameroon. The national Scorpions are pitted against Mauritania in their first match on 12th January, 2021 at Limbe Stadium.
For Lamin Kaba Bajo, the president of the Gambia Football Federation (GFF), 2021 has been the most successful year in the country’s footballing history.
“Despite devastating effects of Covid-19 pandemic, there was so much to celebrate for The Gambia as history was made on March 25th 2021 when The Gambia Qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations finals for the very first time, finishing top of a group that consists of Gabon, Angola and DRC,” President Bajo said at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) held at the National Technical Training Centre in Yundum on 26 December, 2021.
From Preliminaries to Qualification
The story of the Scorpions’ maiden Afcon success is an incredible one. It was a journey from grass to grace. Having to battle for a place in the qualifiers proper, the Scorpions had to triumph over Djibouti through penalties after a 2-2 aggregate draw.
The qualification campaign lasted for more than 2 years due to a year hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It started in October 2019 and ended in June 2021.
The Gambia’s senior team were pitted against Angola, Gabon and DR Congo in the group stages. They would qualify top in the group with 10 points. Gabon had 10 points too, but the senior Scorpions had one more goal than them. Out of six matches, the Scorpions won 3, drew 1 and lost 2.
Meanwhile, according to the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF), the tournament will be hosted in five main cities at six stadia. Two stadiums in the capital Yaounde: Ahmadou Ahidjo and Olembe. There is the Japoma Stadium at Douala, Kouekong Stadium at Bafoussam, Roumde-Adjia Stadium at Garoua and finally the Limbe Omnisport Stadium at Limbe-Buea.
Also, out of the 24 qualified teams, The Gambia and Comoros are the debutants in the 33rd edition of the continent’s flagship tournament. This leaves 10 African countries yet to qualify to the Afcon finals. They include the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Eswatini, Lesotho, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Somalia and South Sudan.