Debutants Gambia, Mauritania looking to make waves

Gambia will be making history when they open their Africa Cup of Nations campaign against Mauritania at the Limbe Stadium today.

The Scorpions are competing on Africa’s biggest stage for the first time in their history after winning their group ahead of Mali in the qualifiers.

Tom Saintfiet’s side boasted an identical record to the Panthers with three victories, one draw and two defeats from their six matches, but topped the group by virtue of more goals scored.

Assan Ceesay was their top scorer in qualifying with three goals and he leads the scoring charts for his country with 11 in total from 23 appearances.

All but one of Saintfiet’s squad ply their trade in Europe, with Bubacarr Trawally playing his club football for Ajman in the United Arab Emirates.

Saintfiet admits his team may be the underdogs in group F, but did not rule out the possibility of advancing to the knockout stages.

“It’s not an easy group, but it might not be the hardest. Tunisia and Mali are favourites and Mauritania have a good team,” the Belgian was quoted as saying by CAFOnline.

“It’s not impossible for The Gambia. We are going to play our chances to the max. My team has proven in recent years that they are competitive.”

This will be Lions of Chinguetti’s second showing at the biennial tournament, having made their debut at the 2019 edition, where they exited at the group stages.

Corentin Martins guided the West Africans to the showpiece event in Cameroon as runners-up to Morocco in their qualifying group, but was sacked in October 2021 for failing to reach the 2022 World Cup finals.

Didier Gomes Da Rosa took over the reins two months later and has overseen one win, two draws and two losses in his five outings as head coach.

The core of his squad is made up of home-based players, with no less than 10 plying their trade in Mauritania, while nine members play their club football in Europe.

Da Rosa has identified their group F opener against Gambia as crucial to his team’s chances of progressing to the round of 16 and potentially beyond.

“There is potential and a lot of room for improvement in Mauritania,” the Frenchman was quoted as saying by CAFOnline.

“It’s true, there are two clear favourites with Mali and Tunisia, but we can compete if we beat Gambia in our first game. It will already be like a semifinal. Mauritania must take a step.”

The two nations have clashed on five previous occasions, with Mauritania registering two wins compared to one for Gambia. Their last meeting took place in AFCON 2017 qualifying with the result a goalless draw. – AFP

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