New boys Gambia eliminated Guinea in the Africa Cup of Nations round of 16 to book a place in the quarter-finals, becoming the second debuting team, after Madagascar, to reach this stage of the competition.
Musa Barrow was the hero for Gambia with a 71st-minute strike at the Limbé Stadium.
“As I have always said I am not the star of the team,” said Barrow after receiving the man-of-the-match award.
“Everyone on that squad knows that beyond football we are one family,” he added.
The first choice starting line-up suffered major changes after right back Ibou Touray and player Nuha Sonko pulled out of the squad because of food poisoning.
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Gambia boss Tom Saintfiet told RFI that the team has had some challenges, but although his side might not have big names, he has big players that can replace anyone.
They racked up two victories and a draw to sweep through the pool stages and are yet to concede a goal from open play in their four games.
“When we were coming to the AFCON we had a dream of making history,” said Saintfiet.
“We keep on dreaming and believing in what we have,”
From migrant to midfielder
Some players have pulled out all stops to get to the championships, both personally and professionally.
At age 15, Ebrima Darboe, the AS Roma midfielder undertook the dangerous and deeply traumatic unaccompanied journey to Italy as a migrant, spending three months travelling by bus to Libya and then boarding an inflatable craft to cross the Mediterranean.
Darboe, 20, made his AFCON debut for Gambia against Mauritania but then tested positive for Covid-19 and missed out on the Scorpions’ second and third games in Group F.
He says the discipline learned under Roma coach Jose Mourinho has helped him attain better levels.
“I feel extremely honored and happy to represent my country at this young age and am really grateful to be at AFCON,” said Darboe.
“I believe this is just the beginning of a great career for me.”
Much has been made about the national team which took 50 years to reach the Cup of Nations.
For Mafugie Jatta, a former national team player in the 1990s, it’s even more poignant.
“We tried so hard to qualify the Gambia to the AFCON during our time but we couldn’t. That’s why I am very happy to witness this day,” said Jatta, in Limbé to support the team.
Cameroon emerged as the next adversaries for Gambia.
The Indomitable Lions saw off debutants Comoros 2-1 after a match overshadowed by the horrifying stampede of fans at the Olembé Stadium that left at least eight people dead and dozens injured.
“I am not worried about Cameroon,” added Jatta. “Even though we will have to respect them as hosts … other nations are now beginning to respect us.”
Source: Modern Ghana
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