By Sulayman Bah
It was a victory rare to find, one that had the few hundreds of home fans jumping off their seats in rambunctious elation. Tanzania were the last outfit Gambia won in a qualifier and at home at the Independence Stadium.
Mustapha Toubabo Jaru was the scorer of both goals in that 2-0 win with Ebrima Sohna and, Bubacarr Sanneh, the sole players to have featured in that meaningless win and still in the team now. It coincided with Sanneh’s senior international home debut under Bonu Johnson’s flagship as the Scorpions, as has been the norm, finished the qualification group abysmally. It’s five years to now with several matches played between then.
Saturday’s triumph brought back memories of 2011when the Scorpions disposed of a star-studded DR Congo on a similar score.
With the woeful defeat to Togo still lingering in minds, Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet made two changes to the team that played the Sparrow Hawks, relegating Musa Barrow on the bench with Tunisia-based Adama Jammeh his replacement while Sulayman Marreh was rested owing to injury.
Yusupha Bobb took Marreh’s place forming a midfield pairing with Ebrima Sohna and attack-destroyer Ebou Adams.
Atypical of the Scorpions, the opening stages of the first-half saw a disjointed pattern of play as both teams tried to settle in. The hosts naturally began taking charge of proceedings until half-way through when The Squirrels of Benin created havoc punishing Gambia for poor defending. Playmaker Pote Micheal was bundled by Pa Modou Jagne before a quick inter change of play led to a cross from the right swinging into the Gambian area. English Premier League striker Steve Mounie was left unmarked by Futty Danso as he rose to plant a header to the Scorpions’ net leaving a stunned goalkeeper Alagie Modou Jobe rooted to the spot.
A hush fell soon after – fans going mute as the first-half ended with the visitors in the driving seat.
Earlier, captain Pa Modou Jagne had gone ahead at close end of Benin’s edge of the box. The FC Zurich left-back let fly a teasing cross but striker Adama Jammeh’s timing wasn’t right with an open goal at his mercy as the ball bounced off to the left
Resumption of play saw Gambia instilling some urgency in their game. It was not until then a very anonymous Lamin Jallow in the first-half collected a pass from the left to cut in from the middle blasting in an out-footed shot that deflected off a Benin defender to sail into the net for a 1-1 stalemate.
An injured Assan Ceesay wobbled off injured. Frustrated, the distraught FC Zurich forward slammed his boot on the ground as the team doctor attended to him before being replaced by Musa Barrow.
Lamin Jallow went into the referee’s book after a slight altercation with Benin’s D’ Almeida Sessi.
Players began to get fired up as supporters roared on. Debutant and 16-goal Bubacarr Jobe came on for the tired legs of Adama Jammeh and no sooner did he enter than he scored seven minutes on later. The former Toronto striker and Mjallby’s goal-getter, outraced his marker in a counter-attack to slot in with his left foot, beating Farnole Fabien on goal for Benin as matters ticked 2-1.
A flummoxed Benin were by now desperately searching for an equaliser realising their chances of automatic qualification to next year’s Nations Cup lie in the balance.
This desperation was exploited to the core by the partnership of Ablie Jallow, Barrow and Jobe.
Lamin Jallow’s pace had him outracing opposition defenders. Benin couldn’t clear and Ablie Jallow arrived in time to tap into an empty net as Gambia won emphatically 3-0.
The Scorpions now have five points in five games and would need to beat Algeria in Algiers while depending on the outcome of Benin’s final meeting with Togo to reach the finals in Yaoundé.