May 17, 2011, 4:13 PM
The Gambia national U-20 team’s inspirational captain Saikou Gassama has admitted he and his teammates would expect any kind of reception in Banjul as the Darling Scorpions look set to head back home after crashing out of the Caf African U-20 championship following a 2-nil defeat to The Flying Eagles of Nigeria on Sunday.
The side, led by local coach Lamin Sarr, were sent packing in the eight-team Youth tournament on the back of two defeats the first of which came against Cameroon at the Dobsonville Stadium few days earlier.
Two defeats and a bitterly fought 1-1 draw with outgoing Caf U-20 champions Ghana was far from enough to see the 2007 bronze medalist through to neither the semi-final of the Johannesburg tournament nor the Fifa U-20 World Cup finals due to take place in Colombia in three months’ time.
Gassama, who is honoured with a leadership role in coach Sarr’s star studded side after been named the team captain, is cognizant of the fact that the results will not go down well with a teeming number of Gambian fans back home, who have been following every development with keen interest.
“It is unfortunate that we could not go far but it has happened and nothing can be done about it. We just need to push harder and move on so that we can play our football at the highest level,” Saikou told Pointsport in an exclusive interview with this reporter few hours after the team’s elimination from the tournament was confirmed.
Asked what kind of reception he and his colleagues should except in Banjul, Saikou responded saying: “We are expecting to get any kind of reception because if the results do not go on your way, you don’t deserve to be treated like a king but what has happened has happened and there is nothing one can do about it.
“We feel our early elimination from the tournament because we really worked hard for it despite what might have transpired prior to the tournament; it is sad that it happened the way we did not want.
“We had bad luck because if you look at the game, the Nigerians dominated the earlier part of the game but as the match was progressing we began to take control of the show but luck was not there.”
The football venues also had their own share of the blame and that has eventually come under heavy criticisms by some teams during the group stages of the campaign, but the Gambian star believes the pitch played on in The Gambia’s game with Nigeria was of better standard compared to Dobsonville Stadium where the Darling Scorpions played their opening two games in controversial circumstances.
Saikou said: “You cannot come into a tournament and expect to lose so therefore despite what happened during the tournament, we must put it behind us and move on.
“We feel sad for failing to qualify for the World Cup because it is bigger and a much more recognised competition than the Caf U-20 Nations Cup.
“The team’s training camp in the Garden Court Hotel in Johannesburg is much more of a boring place compared to the previous days due to the elimination of the team but what can we do about it,” the disappointed captain admits.
He noted further: “Football is like a business, so the Gambians should invest a lot in football so that the boys can benefit from the game.”
With many junior national caps under his belt, Saikou is one of the most influential players in the U-20 team but has failed to replicate the impressive form that saw him catch the eyes of a good number of football pundits both at home and abroad.
He plays his professional football with Real Zaragoza in Spain.