This is the beautiful story of CAN 2021. The Gambia, for its first, reached the quarter-finals and faced Cameroon this Saturday for a place in the last four of the competition.
Afrique Sports: How are your players a few days before the match against Cameroon?
Tom Saintfiet: We are ready. We have a few players who are sick because we had problems in the last hotel with meals. We still have two days before facing Cameroon and we hope they will return to the group. We have three players with injuries that are uncertain. The atmosphere is good. We did the Covid tests and all the players are negative for the third time. We have nothing to lose against Cameroon. Playing the quarter-finals here against a fantastic country, a strong team. Cameroon are favorites but we are here to have fun and get a good result.
Do you think in the group that it is possible to eliminate Cameroon at home?
Tom Saintfiet: We are never afraid of other teams. We won in this tournament against Guinea, Tunisia and Mauritania and a draw against Mali. Before we beat Angola, DRC, Gabon, Morocco and two draws against Algeria. Everything is possible but we have to be realistic. It’s going to be very difficult. We will do everything to be disciplined. You also need a bit of a chance to win. Clearly, Cameroon are the big favorites but it is still not the favorites who win.
Like any team, Cameroon has weak points. Have you detected them? If yes, which ones?
Tom Saintfiet: I don’t want to talk about Cameroon at the moment. We have qualities that they do not have. It’s a good team physically with a strong striker (Vincent Aboubakar, editor’s note) who can score a lot of goals. Our team can play in a tactical discipline with a lot of speed and technical movements to create chances. We have individuals who can make the difference. Cameroon are a great team, one of the best in Africa and may have the opportunity to play in Qatar for the World Cup.
What makes the strength of the Scorpions of The Gambia today?
Tom Saintfiet: Our strength is our team. We don’t have any big stars but we have players who play at AS Roma, Sampdoria, Bologna, Zurich… We also have players who play in the 5th division, in the 4th division in England, Sweden or Denmark. We have a mix of players with a lot of experience and young players. They are still not the best players but we have a better team. We have a very good team with players who do what I want with a lot of passion and love for the country and the national team. Our strength is the team.
There are so many surprises in this CAN. Equatorial Guinea which took out Mali, Tunisia which eliminated Nigeria, Malawi which put Morocco in difficulty before giving in, does Cele give you this determination and strength to create a sensation this Saturday against Cameroon?
Tom Saintfiet: There are not Algeria, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria and other big teams like Ghana that are eliminated. It is clear that there are no more small teams. We proved everything in the first round and in the round of 16. We are Gambia and we focus on our team and not the others. Our project and our quality are all that matters when writing a story. We will do our job and we will see if it is enough to get a good result.
A few days ago, the controversy arose over the accommodation conditions of your team. Today you changed hotels for the match against Cameroon, are you experiencing the same situation?
Tom Saintfiet: Now we are in a top hotel. It’s fantastic to be here. Everything is different. The trip, the flight, everything is well regulated. We are happy with the hotel, it is a different world. It’s fantastic. We are very happy to be here.
You made an outing, the Federation made another, can we talk about misunderstandings?
Tom Saintfiet: No no. I don’t want to talk about that. I made a statement after the game. It is now over. We are talking about football. It must be said now we are in a good hotel.
Your final word
Tom Saintfiet: I hope all the small football nations in Africa will support The Gambia. We need everyone’s support even though I know that the Cameroonians will be behind their team. It would be an extraordinary and magical story to qualify for the semi-finals. It’s almost impossible, but we believe in it.
Original story on The Point