Scorpions Down BUT Still All To Play For
The Gambia suffered a humbling defeat in the first of their two-legged Cameroon 2022 African Cup of Nations qualifiers against Gabon in Franceville last night, where the Scorpions walked on to the pitch carrying the number 10 jersey of the former national footballing icon Biri Biri, who passed away last July.
A 6th minute goal from Saint-Etienne 's midfielder, Denis Bouanga and a second half strike from Arsenal's prolific talisman, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang condemned the Scorpions to their first defeat of the qualifying campaign, which they started so well with a 3-1 away win in Angola followed by another hard fought 2-2 draw against the Democratic Republic of Congo about a year ago.
However, last night's game ended in a disappointing 2-1 defeat, not only for the result, but also the performance of the team, which was way below the high standards they had thus far set in the prior two games, where they showed great resolve against two good teams in Angola and DRC to get 4 points from a possible 6.
But last night they were caught cold. It took the Gabonese 6 minutes to put their nose in front and, for almost the entire first half half, the Scorpions could not get out of their slumber reel, which saw them stagger around helplessly in their own half for most of the half as they endeavoured tirelessly to stop the constant surge from the Gabonese.
The team suffered a lot in that first 45, not for Gabon's brilliance, but the failing of the Scorpions' tactical set-up, which was a 4-5-1 formation, with two holding midfielders in Ebrima Sohna and Dawda Ngum playing in front of the back four of Omar Colley, Buba Sanneh, Pa Modou Jagne and Nuha Sonko Sundberg.
For a start, this formation was by no means wrong for such a game away from home, combined with the fact that the team had lost several key players, who had done so well in the previous two qualifying games, including Assan Ceesay (Torres) and Hamza Barry, whom I thought was brilliant against DR Congo last November, and without doubt was the missing piece last night.
His presence would have given the Scorpions a link between the defensive and offensive third of the team. He would have played in front of the two holding players in some sort of a number ten role, where he could've also hold the ball and beat players, which he usually does brilliantly with relative ease. He is player who is very comfortable on the ball and protects possession better, which would have stopped the ball constantly bouncing back anytime the Scorpions cleared their lines.
And his absence was also seriously compounded by the early goal we conceded, which in effect tore down our game plan in the 4-5-1 set-up, which understandably was employed to stifle the Gabonese attack and frustrate them. And had it worked to plan in the first 45, the second half could have been a different game, just as we saw following the introduction of Bubacarr Trawally (Steve), along with Abdoulie Sanyang (Bamba Lie) and Buba Jobe, who scored in the 81st minute to give the Scorpions a glimmer of hope, although was not enough in the end.
The substitution to bring on Steve was timely, as it gave the Gambian side a better balance and, he is another player who can play as a ten as he showed with the ball at his feet in the lead to the Gambian goal. He was almost Jatto-like in his dribbling run to set up Buba for his goal, where he brilliantly skipped past a couple of Gabonese defenders to release a sublime pass across the penalty area for Buba, who complemented his effort with an equally brilliant finish.
And again he was able to support Musa Barrow upfront, who was very exposed on his own in the first half playing as a lone striker, which is not his biggest strength, as he is more of a second striker than a target man. Another area, where we could've done with the presence of Assan Ceesay, who was missing due to illness. He would have caused Gabon more problems in a 4-5-1 set up than Musa did. Musa's strength lies in playing behind the main striker or cutting from the left just like he does with his club.
Despite the early promise, where the team seemed to have found their feet early in the second half, lapses in the back four, chiefly to lack of concentration, allowed Aubameyang to add to his 26 goal tally for his national side, which unfortunately dented that early momentum in the Gambian team's play, where they had better possession and were stringing at least couple of passes together, something they had failed woefully to achieve in the first half and, that second goal cut the their task short as, from then on it was always going to be an uphill climb after going 2 nil down.
However, the character they showed in the end to continue fighting was enviable and, Bubacarr Jobe' s goal exposed the weaknesses in the Gabonese backline, who were unfortunately not tested enough prior to the goal. But it shows we can score against them and, with better quality players or having some one like Assan Ceesay in the return leg could expose those weaknesses to our advantage. Let's hope he recovers quickly to join the team in Banjul where, I understand the likes of Lamin Jallow may also be available.
We may all be feeling a bit downbeat following the defeat but, it's not all doomed and gloom. We still sitting second on the table with four points and all to play for. And if we can beat Gabon at home on Monday, that will still put us level with them on seven points while the other two, DR Congo, currently third on the table with two points and Angola, who are yet to pick up a point after two matches, battle it out to play catch up. We still have a game each against those two next year. With Angola due to visit us home.
So, although, the game on Monday will be played behind closed doors, let's continue to rally behind the team and avoid the bickering and disgruntlements that always follows a Scorpions defeat. It will be premature to do that at this point and the despondency may sync across to the team, which may not help their confidence and our cause. So let's bear patience and give them all the support they need to overturn this result in Bakau on Monday.
Good luck Scorpions