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Is Gambia in shape for 2012 qualifiers?

Sep 1, 2010, 4:14 PM | Article By: Musa Ann

Paul Put's mission to become the ghost-buster of The Gambia's football history starts on Saturday 4th September, at the Independence Stadium in Bakau.
As Gambia prepares to take on Namibia in the opening group game in Banjul, Paul has only a few days to tinker on his squad selection for the country's latest attempt to claim a spot in the CAF African Nations Cup Finals for the first time in the football history of the Smiling Coast of Africa .
Put is trying to bridge 42 years gap that has become a constant source of hope, expectation and ultimate disappointment. Unfortunately for Paul, his recent request for test matches was not granted, and he therefore did not know the current collective level of preparedness of his troops. The last time he gathered his boys for a friendly match was in June when they were trashed 5-1 by Mexico six months after the memorable 2-1 friendly win over 2004 African champions, Tunisia . So there goes the mind blowing question as to "how the Gambian squad stand as the clock ticks closer to the kick-off in Banjul ?"
The Belgian tactician will hope the next few weeks bring the stability and continuity required to plan for success in qualifying The Gambia to the CAN 2012 in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea . Gambian supporters can at least rest easy in the knowledge that they have a coach who is spectacularly unmoved by the heavy load history and expectation that will accompany the squad in their quest to qualify for the finals…..Paul's clear-headedness, ruthless and brave approach is among his greatest strengths.
The Gambia go into the qualifiers with question marks hanging over the quality of their goalkeepers. The fear that still remains in the doldrums is Put's lack of an undisputed and utterly reliable first choice, which will no doubt haunt the scorpions when it matters most during the qualifiers.
The Djurgarden captain, Pa Dembo Touray will feel he is in prime position to start, given his experience in the national team and regular football in the Swedish Allsvenska League, but arguably just as much a condemnation of his rivals who have failed to see off the challenge of an ageing man.
Musa Camara, the outstanding youngster who led The Gambia to Under 17 glory in 2009 in Algeria , conceding a single goal in the process, appears to be regarded as vastly inexperienced to be handed the gloves, although his ability to save penalties may add to his credential as the qualifiers progress.
Real de Banjul custodian, Alagie Modou Jobe (Toldo) has been inconsistent over the years. He was once regarded as the best goalkeeper in the domestic league. After guiding the capital team to the league crown in 2007, he moved to Armed Forces and again led the Khaki Boys to a much coveted league title and continued his exploits to the following Nawetaan season, making himself a communal hero by leading hometown team, Ball Cogne to their first-ever Nawetaan title and capped off a memorable season by collecting a zonal championship medal with Serrekunda East. Since then, Toldo has been shadowed of his former self, enduring a forgettable league campaign with Real de Banjul in which they survived relegation to the Second Division on the last day of the season.
No one doubts Pa Dembo's natural ability, but his reliability has always been a matter for debate. It is a pity that age is not on his side to cure now and it is to be hoped that it's not on the agenda during the campaign.
The defence on paper looks stable. Abdou Jammeh (T Boy) and Mathew Mendy in the centre with Ebrima Sohna and Pa Saikou Kujabi, nicknamed Roberto Carlos for his powerful runs down the left. It is, however, hardly an area without worries.
Mathew was a rock at the back the last time he featured for The Gambia with Put regarding him one of the leaders of the team, handing him the armband in crunch games, but the solid defender has been missing from the Scorpion’s lineup for a while and Omar Jawo has covered in his absence.
Ebrima Sohna is regarded as one of the most committed and outstanding players in the current team but like anyone else, he also has his down side. He has an impressive defending talent, but remains highly vulnerable in attack. The impressive Abdou Njie has become an option following his heroic performances with the Under 17 in Algeria .
The coach will need to construct the right blend to shore up his rearguard in time for the task ahead. He has no worries at left back as the ever reliable Carlos remains competitive. He is truly an outstanding defender and someone the Belgian can count on and in Pa Modou Jagne (NDA) he has reliable deputy. The fact that he also operates as a centre forward, adds up as an advantage to the team.
The midfield, however, is filled with quality, but once again Paul will have to perform a delicate balancing act to field the right players in the right positions. As seen in the recent games, Tijan Jaiteh has struggled when played as the only holding midfielder, prompting the coach to pair him with long time midfield partner, Ebrima Sohna to add more steel in the middle of the park. That takes us back to the defence, leaving Abdou Njie as the front runner for the right back position having been a substitute in the Mexico game. Mustapha Jarjue (toubabo), plying his trade in Belgium with Mons Berger and Dawda Bah of HJK Helsinki provide options in the attacking midfield department, though both can also operate as supporting strikers, as they do for their respective club sides.
The team has plenty of options on the flanks with the already tested Nyassi twins, Aziz Corr Nyang and Abdoulie ken Mansally, together with the emerging talents of current Under 20 captain, Saihou Gassama and San Jose Earthquakes wing wizard, Omar Jasseh(Waterman) all in contention, coach Put has a lot of thinking to do.
In attack it is as much a prayer as it is questions. Will the strikers score the necessary goals to take us through? Which players are going to form the strike partnership to finally see our dreams come true?
The likelihood is that Ousman Jallow will be paired in attack with Njogu Demba, despite the lack of consistency shown in recent games by the OB Odense striker. Momodou Ceesay has made a much more compelling case for inclusion following his heroic performances for new club, MSK Zilina, scoring in both the second and final qualifying rounds of the prestigious UEFA Champions League. His latest goal in a 2-0 win over Czech champions, Sparta Prague putting them firmly in place going into the second leg in Slovakia, but a recent fall out with Put means Zico is an outside bet to start. Many fans though will want to see the long-term dream partnership of Zico and Ous Jallow to come into reality, considering the pair's heroics in guiding The Gambia to its first Under 17 glory on home soil in 2005 and the stunning displays in Peru , humbling soccer powers, Brazil in the opening game of the World Under 17 Championship. Cherno Samba, Ebrima Sawaneh and new sensation Ebou Bojang will be the other strikers in contention, but it will be interesting to see what plans the coach has for them.
So a few days  to go, Paul Put has plenty to pore over the good news for Gambian fans is that he has proven to be equal to the task if given the backing of the nation which I believe he has.
So do it Paul and The Gambia will love you forever.