Gambia have a solid base on which to build for the future, having represented Africa at two recent FIFA youth competitions. And with their recent rise into the top 100 of the FIFA/Coca-Cola world ranking, they stand on the precipice of total transformation.
In 2005, Gambia won the African U-17 championship, which they hosted, and went on to play at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru. Last year they qualified for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, where they went past the first round before losing to Austria in the round of 16.
Not long ago, Gambia were considered one of African football's minnows, good enough to participate, but not good enough to challenge. But as more of their players gained international experience by playing outside the country, such Dutch-based Edrissa Sonko, Ebou Sillah, the Njie brothers - Abou and Momor and Jatto Ceesay, the strength of the national side grew and their opponents started taking them more seriously.
Or at least they should have taken them more seriously, if they had watched the Scorpions take on FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finalists Senegal in a CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in March 2003. The underdogs came very close to beating the Lions of Teranga, who in the end were lucky to return home with a goalless draw.
Therefore Liberia should have been warned when they traveled to Bakau for a first leg match in the African preliminary qualifying rounds for Germany 2006. They were obviously not, as Gambia won 2-0, even missing a retaken penalty, to give themselves a real chance of achieving a historic place in the group stage.
Liberia won the return leg 3-0, though, to dramatically end the
underdogs' hopes of qualifying for the second round, but
Gambia's impressive performance in their fifth FIFA World Cup
qualifying campaign showed quite clearly that they are no longer to
be considered cannon-fodder for teams en route to bigger things.
The West Africans begin their campaign for a place in the 2010 finals in South Africa with a home tie against Algeria. They also play Senegal and Liberia in their group. Belgian Paul Put was recently named head coach of the side.