The end of Gambia's great adventure

Monday, July 16, 2007

Before Gambia took on Austria, their head coach Peter Bonu Johnson said the Round of 16 contest would be "like the final" because if they lost they would have to pack their bags and head home. caught up with the downhearted Gambia boss as he was doing just that in his hotel bedroom in Edmonton following their 2-1 defeat at the Commonwealth Stadium. Breaking away from reluctantly folding his clothes into a suitcase, he said: "I'm disappointed with the result but I am also very proud of my boys and their performance. We could have scored more goals if we had taken our chances in the second half but this is the passion and despair of football. At times it will not walk with you."

Skipper Ken Jammeh was sent off in the 2-1 group stage win over Portugal and his suspension against Austria was compounded when Tijan Jaiteh was dismissed in the 43rd minute of the second round tie. However, just as they had against Portugal, Gambia grew stronger in the face of adversity and, despite conceding just before half-time, the Baby Scorpions had a sting in their tails. They overwhelmed Austria at times and drew level before falling to Erwin Hoffer's late winner, so ending their first appearance in the knock-out phase of a FIFA tournament.

"If you make one simple mistake your opponent punishes you and that was what happened ten minutes before the end," said Johnson. "We lost concentration for a second and allowed their player to chest the ball down before he volleyed it in. In the first half we gave Austria too much respect and it was just unfortunate that we had that red card so early in the game but that was a motivating factor for the players. They were ready to give it all they have despite having one man down because they believed they could do it and they fought very hard to change the result."

Former Flamemins FC player Johnson added: "We only had a one-week training camp in the USA before heading here. That affected us a bit but our strength is that we play as a determined team. All the players give everything. They have learned a lot and it's unlucky that only three of them are playing with professional clubs - Tijan Jaiteh (Brann) and Ebrima Sohna (Sandefjord) in Norway, plus Ousman Jallow (Raja Casablanca) in Morocco. The others have definitely lived up to expectations, particularly Pierre Gomez, who has improved greatly. If we can get some more guys out to professional sides I think the future will be bright for Gambian football."

Author: Written by Nanama Keita
Source: The Daily Observer Newspaper