Sulayman Bah

Saturday’s big event went in the end unhindered despite initial fears it could be halted which meant Gambia incurring Caf’s wrath.

There were genuine concerns that the over thirty-five thousand strong spectators may not see Manchester City and Algeria’s skipper Riyad Mahrez take to the pitch. It happened that the gate-minders allowed more than the stadium stands can hold so the scramble for seating position became all too apparent.

With the noise reverberating around the venue, it was even claimed the numbers outside were beginning to force in attempt to penetrate through, moaning they too have bought tickets. Sad memories of the 2008 qualifier against Liberia came permeating the surface. Up to five people were reported crushed in that stampede. But fans’ agenda on Saturday was a clear writing on the wall –just a come out and support the Gallant Scorpions move.

Build-up to this game was marred by allegations of egotistical behaviour with three key players said to have shunned the national team in show of disapproval over the omission of Bubacarr Trawally from the squad.

Tom Saintfiet, going into the weekend’s duel was a total strange man to the dressing room. Relying more on experience over youthful exuberance, the Belgian Gambia coach opted to stick with the team’s veterans prompting the return of US-based Futty Danso. The unavailability of Hamza Barry triggered Ebrima Sohna’s immediate inclusion as an assembled Scorpions outfit held Algeria.

The Desert Foxes could be accorded favourite tagging on paper but the statistics operate differently looking at the two countries line ups player-per-player. Algeria boasts of internationally acclaimed stars, however the hosts also possess some bit of aura to balance the equilibrium.

But against the soaring hype, Gambia merely settled for a draw, a thing perhaps fueled by gaffer Saintfiet’s pre-match lukewarm approach.

He was describing the tie up against the Algerians a herculean task in a meeting that also had him facing off his former boss in the dug-out in Algeria’s tactician during the duo’s time in Qatar.

The North Africans looked threatening going forward. While Mahrez endured an anonymous night in Banjul, the Manchester City playmaker showed some flashes of brilliance. The absence of Hamza Barry saw the Scorpion devoid of midfield creativity. The tireless efforts of surprise inclusion Ebou Adams to form part of a midfield triumvirate also comprising Ebrima Sohna and Sulayman Marreh, did enough to ward off whatever danger thrown at them by the Desert Foxes.

This can be factored out of coach Tom’s longing to win over home fans at the first time of asking by prioritizing a draw and a win of the three points considered  a bonus rather than a priority target hence the Scorpions’ tactician’s employ of cautious approach, pouncing only on the counter.

Victory for the Scorpions would sure have assured of a joint-table place at the group’s summit with Benin.

Algeria now travels out of the country’s shores the happier side, contented with a draw. The result leaves Gambia with a mountainous task to scale as they face Togo on both legs.

Join The Conversation