When the whistle blew to start the second half of Saturday’s Group B clash with France at Baku’s Dalga Arena, the only motivation left for Gambia – already eliminated prior to kick-off and 3-0 down to Les Bleuettes at the interval – was to make the very best of their remaining time at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012. Three minutes later, however, and a slice of luck did come the Africans’ way.
French keeper Cindy Perrault lost her footing during an attempted clearance, thus allowing striker Penda Bah to react quickest and score her country’s first ever goal in the history of this competition. The goal did not make the Gambians’ eventual farewell much less painful though, particularly as they subsequently went down to a thumping 10-2 reverse to follow emphatic 11-0 and 6-0 humblings at the hands of Korea DPR and USA respectively.
Yet getting on the scoresheet did at least provide some consolation for Bah, and a tangible reward for her persistence here on Azerbaijani soil. “The first thing I thought when I saw the keeper slip was how much I deserved to score, because I never gave up,” said Gambia’s No8. “It was a gift, but I deserved it. In football you have to put your opponents under pressure at all times, because if you don’t you’ve no chance of winning.
“I’m always trying to keep the pressure on and that’s how my chance came about,” continued the 14-year-old forward. “I’d like the goal to soften the blow of losing and heading for home early, but it still doesn’t feel that way just yet. In any case, I’m very proud to have scored. They won the game, but I did everything I could.”
Nor would the attacker’s level of determination have surprised those who watch her train on a daily basis with the national team. “She’s an exceptional player who always takes on board the advice we give her,” said Gambia assistant coach Mariama Sowe. “We always tell the girls: when a defender makes a mistake, an intelligent forward has to take full advantage. And that’s what Penda Bah did.”
What is more, Bah’s historic goal no doubt spurred on team-mate Sainey Sissohore who, 21 minutes later, went on to become the competition’s youngest ever scorer at the tender age of 13 years and nine months.
“We have to leave here feeling satisfied because this was our first appearance [at this tournament] and we’ve learned a lot. I’m sure that next time [we qualify] we’ll manage to go further,” concluded Bah with conviction.
“I hope that people in Gambia understand we’re just at the start of a process and that, given time, we’ll do a better job of meeting expectations. For the time being, we’re happy to have had the chance to be here and take on some of the best national sides in the world. That alone will help us to grow and progress.”