By Sulayman Bah
While Algeria fight to keep coach Djamel Belmadi’s record, it’s more than just pride to battle for Gambia as the Scorpions go out seeking to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time.
Previous attempts at qualification, as it’s to everyone’s knowledge, turned out a fiasco for the players and yet another catalogue of disenchantment for fans.
So many records stand to be broken today if Gambia pulls off an upset and the Benin-Togo qualifier goes on to end a draw.
The over 35-year away winless run in the qualifiers will be shattered if Algeria get shocked as coach Tom Saintfiet eyes going down in history as the man who shepherded Gambia to an international senior tournament on the back of a more than four decades of trying without success.
This will, to some extent, determine whether the Belgian will be retained as coach. Gambia goes into the encounter emboldened by the 3-1 trouncing of Benin last November.
While a good chunk of the players in that game won’t be available for today’s fixture for numerous reasons, Saintfiet has called in some replacements who, on paper, look cut out for the job of stopping Algeria.
Concerns have been rife about the midfield being starve of creativity but the coach does not appear bothered and does seems to thrive in times when he or his team is doubted most. Skepticism littered the surface when he faced Algeria in the first-leg, Togo (away in Cotonou) and Benin (at home in Banjul). As is the case with doubts, there is willing to keep head above water no matter the grueling circumstances. Tom has been a perfect example of that, keeping himself afloat in spite of adversity so much that he’d perfected the art of patching leakages in his team.
The void created by the absence of Hamza Barry remains as clear as the sun. The gaffer had handled this by merging Ebou Adams with Ebrima Sohna – a pair of energy tanks but with virtually zero levels of surging the play forward. The inclusion of Yusupha Bobb has provided seal and helped to thwart Benin’s attacks.
While Algeria are no Benin and the North Africans may boasts of a star-studded team but aren’t expected to exhibit fluidity considering they’re a collection of new players unlike Gambia who’d played together with Nuha Marong, former Spain U-17 and U-20 forward, being the sole new call-up in the Scorpions line up.
Panic could take a grip giving the players will be performing before a notoriously not too receptive Algerian football fans, however willingness to prevail should conquer whatever intimidation the hosts might present to the visitors.
Togo and Benin play on Sunday.