Gambia have never qualified a women’s team for a major championship before, and they had never even entered a team in the U-17 preliminaries before. So the success of coach Buba Jallow’s team earlier this year was a pleasant surprise for the small west African nation. The Girl Scorpions held on for an aggregate win over Sierra Leone in the opening round, despite struggling through the away leg. In the second head-to-head tie, they were underdogs against Tunisia, but they triumphed in both legs, most impressively 2-1 in Tunis.
Although they will no doubt be considered outsiders at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, the Gambian team will be buoyed by the win over Tunisia, particularly after they came from a goal behind in the away leg. “The manner in which the players came back from the early goal to win on foreign soil is very encouraging,” said assistant coach and former international Chero Mbenga, who was on Gambia’s first-ever women’s team in 2006. “[In Azerbaijan], we hope to have a respectable tournament. Hopefully it will be good exposure for our girls and perhaps provide them the opportunity to get to more advanced leagues.”
With a clutch of skilful attacking players and an aggressive mentality, Gambia could cause problems for any rivals that underestimate them. Given the emerging nature of women’s football in the country of under two million, the debutants will also be helping to increase the profile of the sport. “The team can encourage more women to play football, which can attract investment as well as change society’s perception,” said Mbenga about the bigger picture. “Women’s football in Gambia is emerging. It may not be as organised as desired, but efforts towards developing it are encouraging.”
Facts and figures
This is Gambia's first appearance at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
Penda Bah, Fatou Darboe and Adama Tamba.
After beating Sierra Leone 3-0 at home to open the first round, Gambia showed some fatigue in falling 3-1 in the return. However, they managed to recover a month later to win both matches against the Tunisians: 1-0 at home and 2-1 away.
The numbers game
0 - The number of FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup qualifiers that Gambia had played in their history before January of this year.