Gambia’s Saintfiet delighted to resume AFCON qualifiers

Gambia’s Saintfiet delighted to resume AFCON qualifiers
Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet

by Graeme Jackson

Monday Nov 09, 2020. 13:00

The Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet has expressed his happiness and relief at the return of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Matchdays 3 and 4 of the group phase will take place over the next week or so, catching up on games which were originally scheduled for March this year but postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Gambia will face a double-header against Gabon in Group D, as they tackle the Panthers in Franceville on Thursday 12 November before hosting the return game in Bakau on Monday 16 November.

The Scorpions will hope to maintain their place at the top of the standings, having claimed four points thanks to a 3-1 away win at Angola and a 2-2 home draw with DR Congo in November last year.

“I’m happy like a child who got his birthday present,” Saintfiet told CAFOnline. “It was a long period; it was in November of last year that we had our last games. We were really preparing everything for March and Covid-19 came.

“It was a period of lots of insecurity, then getting the news that there will be qualifiers in November was fantastic news [and] we are looking forward to that.”

The Belgian manager added, “We prepared while having to take care of the Covid-19 security of players and staff. How to travel and so on but at least we have started with that job and naturally looking forward to November’s matches against Gabon, which could be very special for all Gambians, so I am a very happy man.”

Saintfiet admitted to the difficulties faced in assembling players from around the world and the issue of missing star man Hamza Barry, who is sidelined while recovering from knee surgery.

“It’s not easy because we will have players coming from three different continents. The majority play in Europe, we have players in Asia and few players in the African continent, so it will be very complex to get everyone together,” said Saintfiet.

“Let’s hope that the peaks are over, and everything goes downwards the health situation returns to almost normal, otherwise it would be very negative if teams cannot use their major players to play the games.”

The coach added, “The biggest problem for now is Hamza Barry. His cruciate ligament injury will take at least six months to recover. He got his surgery in July so maybe in February or March he will be returning. It is very sad because against Angola and DR Congo he proved how important he’s in the midfield role.

“On the other side in the previous year we had several other players who could perform on that position and it’s an opportunity for others, but [I] am naturally sad that Hamza is not there so we have to find solutions.”

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