Gambia's great adventure ends
© FIFA.com

Before Gambia took on Austria, their head coach Peter Bonu Johnson said the Round of 16 contest would be "like the final" because if they lost they would have to pack their bags and head home.

FIFA.com caught up with the downhearted Gambia boss as he was doing just that in his hotel bedroom in Edmonton following their 2-1 defeat at the Commonwealth Stadium. Breaking away from reluctantly folding his clothes into a suitcase, he said: "I'm disappointed with the result but I am also very proud of my boys and their performance. We could have scored more goals if we had taken our chances in the second half but this is the passion and despair of football. At times it will not walk with you."

Skipper Ken Jammeh was sent off in the 2-1 group stage win over Portugal and his suspension against Austria was compounded when Tijan Jaiteh was dismissed in the 43rd minute of the second round tie. However, just as they had against Portugal, Gambia grew stronger in the face of adversity and, despite conceding just before half-time, the Baby Scorpions had a sting in their tails. They overwhelmed Austria at times and drew level before falling to Erwin Hoffer's late winner, so ending their first appearance in the knock-out phase of a FIFA tournament.

"If you make one simple mistake your opponent punishes you and that was what happened ten minutes before the end," said Johnson. "We lost concentration for a second and allowed their player to chest the ball down before he volleyed it in. In the first half we gave Austria too much respect and it was just unfortunate that we had that red card so early in the game but that was a motivating factor for the players. They were ready to give it all they have despite having one man down because they believed they could do it and they fought very hard to change the result."

Former Flamemins FC player Johnson added: "We only had a one-week training camp in the USA before heading here. That affected us a bit but our strength is that we play as a determined team. All the players give everything. They have learned a lot and it's unlucky that only three of them are playing with professional clubs - Tijan Jaiteh (Brann) and Ebrima Sohna (Sandefjord) in Norway, plus Ousman Jallow (Raja Casablanca) in Morocco. The others have definitely lived up to expectations, particularly Pierre Gomez, who has improved greatly. If we can get some more guys out to professional sides I think the future will be bright for Gambian football."

Goalscorer Gomez
Gomez got Gambia's equaliser against Austria and his 69th minute strike was a little bit special. First he hassled Thomas Harnik inside his own area and when the Austrian midfielder lost possession, Gomez was on hand to flick the ball across the box and into the corner of the net with the outside of his left foot. He collapsed backwards onto the turf with happiness before joining his jubilant colleagues in a sprint to the touchline where they bowed, as one, in prayer to offer thanks - a goal celebration Gambia made their own at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru two years ago. Even he had to admit: "Yes, it was a lovely finish but I give credit to my team-mates. I was overjoyed when I scored."

That joy turned sour at the final whistle but he added philosophically: "Right now I am sad but I know on the other hand it is God's will and we have to accept it. We fought very, very hard but it was ten against 11 and we needed to come back in the second half. At half-time the coach told us to go out there and give it a fight... it's not over yet. We had a lot of self-belief that we could make it because the battle is hard for us to get to a professional level and this is the opportunity to show our skills. It's a good tournament for us and we will come back strong at the senior 2010 FIFA World Cup™.

"During the African qualifying tournament I didn't manage to show my best so when I came to the U-20 World Cup I wanted to put that right. Back home, my friends and family always used to tell me I was good and to keep it up, so this has been for them," the 18-year-old told FIFA.com.

"I don't know what the future holds," said the Banjul Hawks defender. "My main target is to find a professional club and I hope I can do that after my performances. If that happens, I would really appreciate it. I am going back to Gambia and I have really missed home... but I wanted to stay in Canada. We had dreams of going all the way here."