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The Road to Nigeria 2009

Apr 14, 2009, 5:03 AM

The Gambia U-17 Baby Scorpions are the reigning champions of Africa, a re-enactment of the 2005 glory. It was in 2005 that The Gambia took the world by storm by emerging as the dominant force in Africa's youth football. They overcame Ghana, a football superpower on the continent, to win the coveted trophy. They then went to Peru, where they got the better of Brazil, another football emperor. Since then The Gambia is no longer seen as a pushover in world football.

Though the immediate successors of the historic 2005 squad were unable to defend the continental title two years later, both the administrators and the technical crew were able to put that humiliation behind them and set their sights higher - hitting the jackpot in Algeria 2009.

Little was known about the 2009 squad and their preparations at the time. This is because the Gambian public was probably disenchanted with the 2007 campaign. The attitude was to wait to see which way the cat would jump. As the tournament drew nearer, the boys launched a campaign of friendly games across North Africa. They were all reported to be successful. Even then, the public was still skeptical, preferring to temper its optimism with caution.

But when they got into the battlefield, the Baby Scorpions made it clear from the onset that they were not settling for a second place. From their comportment and hard work, it was evident that they had champion's stuff and aspirations. They went through the preliminary stage without conceding a goal. In the second phase, they conceded a lone goal (a penalty) in the final against the host nation - Algeria. To have defeated the host nation twice in the same tournament is a feat worth celebrating!

In appreciation of their conquest of the continent, a grateful President Yahya Jammeh showered the boys with millions of dalasis. The Baby Scorpions have gone down in history as probably the first teenage millionaires in this country. The boys would be wise to use the money well.

But that was just the battle; the war looms ahead. In October, the Baby Scorpions will be flying down to Nigeria to play on the global stage. It is the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Champions from other continents will all converge in Nigeria to fight it out for global acclaim. The Baby Scorpions are not just going to Nigeria as ambassadors of The Gambia but as the all-conquering African champions. They will be featured as the true legs of Africa.      

This is where the challenge lies. It means that the team will have to work even harder to make the continent proud by coming on top as the champion of champions. The same team spirit that won them the trophy in Algeria will prove useful when they get to Nigeria. They must never let the Algeria glory get to their heads, nor should they let the fame and fortune of the Algeria campaign make them complacency. When they triumph in Nigeria, their stock in international football will soar, with the result that the big European clubs will be chasing after them. This is a footballer's dream.

At the administrative level, nothing should be taken for granted. More friendly games should be organized right away so that the boys do not get lazy. The technical crew should instill in the boys a more competitive spirit, drumming it into their ears that if they could conquer Africa, they can just as well conquer the world. They must be made to avoid the twin-evil of complacency and self-indulgence. Nobody, they must be made to understand, owns football. Today's champion could be tomorrow's loser - we have seen this happening again and again!

"On being named Footballer of the Century. It's a pleasure to be standing up here. It's a pleasure to be standing up."

Best, George