Ambitious Gambia aim high
© AFP

Gambia sit inside the top 100 in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, hoping their status among the top 50 per cent of world football will lead to substantive future rewards.

The west African country is among the smallest on the continent but recent junior success, and a consistent export of top playing talent to clubs around the world, is building a foundation they hope to exploit in the coming years. Gambia have played at FIFA competition at both U-17 and U-20 level but never been to a major tournament with their senior side.

Their aim will now be on the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, where they have reason for optimism after being drawn in the same qualifying group with Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Namibia. They open their campaign with a home match against Namibia in September. One month later they face an away tie at Ouagadougou, where a positive result against the Burkinabe could see the side up for a tilt at reaching the continental showpiece which will be held in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Constant improvement
Gambia have had their chances in the recent past but a decade ago were languishing in the bottom section of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. At the end of 2000, the Scorpions were ranked 155 and five years later had dropped to 164th. However, they have consistently risen since then, reaching a high of 65 last June and are now 92nd in the world, with a rise of three places up from last month.

A sign of their seriousness was the fact that they offered themselves as sparring partners for teams seeking warm-up matches ahead of the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals. Gambia played both Tunisia and Angola, beating the formidable north Africans and drawing with the hosts in early January.

Gambia can draw players from across the leagues of Europe and the USA, where there are seven Gambians on the books of Major League Soccer clubs. Their Belgian coach Paul Put has spent the last months travelling extensively to meet with his players, who are based in leagues in Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

Goalkeeper Pa Dembo Touray has returned to the side after a long hiatus and is set to captain the national team throughout their 2012 qualifying campaign. Touray plays at Djurgarden in Sweden and is among the few veterans left in the team. The remainder hail from the squads that had been to the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, as well as the FIFA U-17 World Cups in Peru and Nigeria.