By Landing Ceesay & Mammy Ngum
The Head Coach of the Gambia National U20 Abdoulie Bojang (Lai) while Speaking to Kerr Fatou, has hailed his team’s “tactical discipline” as a reason for their success.
“When we were going to this competition, we had a target that was to qualify for the World Cup, which we achieved. After achieving that, knowing that we could clinch the title play, we fought tooth and nail to make sure that we at least present something to the Gambian people. Unfortunately, we were unable to win the trophy. But there are a lot of positives in this team. In every game that we played, we won the man of the match.
“We make sure that we put up a respectable performance and qualify for the World Cup as well, which we achieved, going to the final as well. We were able to achieve all those, playing up to the final, we didn’t concede a goal. In every game we played, we have scored except the final. The first time to get a hat trick in the Africa Cup of Nations under 20 championships, voted coach of the first round, and the first time qualifying the team to the final. Definitely, I feel it is a big achievement, even though we were unable to win the trophy. But, it is a big achievement compared to the previous AFCON championships,” Coach Lai Bojang said.
When asked what really worked for his team during the competition in Egypt, Coach Lai Bojang pointed at the “tactical discipline” of his players.
“Is always the game plan, is the tactical approach of the games. The players are tactically very well-disciplined. They understand exactly the system that we play and how we play it. That is what helps us to achieve all that we achieve at the end of the day,” he said.
The Gambia finished second at the just concluded U20 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt after losing 2-0 to Senegal in the final. Prior to the final against Senegal, Coach Abdoulie Bojang’s team went five matches without conceding a single goal.
Talking about the final against Senegal, Coach Lai Bojang said his team made a mistake and Senegal relied on that to punish them, claiming that after Senegal’s first goal, his team was forced not to play the actual system they are used to playing.
“Because we wanted to equalize, and we needed two goals to win the game. So that was the difference and the Senegalese team when they scored the goal. They were very well organized at the back. So I think we’ve learned a lot from that game and the whole competition at large. We will improve before the World Cup,” he stated.
Coach Lai Bojang told Kerr Fatou, that his team felt the absence of midfield maestro Haruna Rashid Njie, who was shown a red in the semi-final against Nigeria and missed the final.
“Well, actually Rashid was playing week in and week out? Bailo steps up. He stepped in for Rashid. He (Bailo) also put in a very respectable performance, but he played one game before the final. Rashid could have been better because consistently, he was playing, and he was performing. So you can see that Bailo did more defending than supporting the striker and the attacking. Nonetheless, he also put up a respectable performance. We prepare all of them and expect that they will all deliver,” Coach Bojang told Kerr Fatou.
On the issue of adding new players to his team for the U20 World Cup, Coach Bojang said he might add one or two players to his current squad for the FIFA U20 World Cup.
Lai Bojang said his current team has been built from the WAFU Zone A Tournament, and they need continuation.
“If we want to bring in so many players, that means we are going to rebuild the team again. We still have faith in the players that we have, we stick to them. We may make one or two adjustments, not more than two adjustments. But personally for me and together with the technical staff, we all have trust and confidence in these players that anywhere they can represent the nation,” he said.
Coach Abdoulie Bojang’s boys defeated Nigeria 1-0 to book a place in the final, which is the Gambia’s first-ever Africa Cup of Nations U20 final. This win over Nigeria was their 5th straight win in the 2023 U20 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, scoring 10 goals without conceding a single goal in the process. The Gambia went on to meet Senegal, a team with a similar record, in the 2023 finals.
Coach Bojang told Kerr Fatou, he is very happy with his team’s performance throughout the tournament.
“I feel very happy. The most important thing is we united the nation and everybody was behind the team. That was amazing to me because indeed we have our differences, but when it comes to the under 20, I do have so many calls, and messages that everyone is saying we are all praying for you. We are all behind the team. So definitely indeed that makes me very happy and being voted for Coach of the first round, to be honest, that shows that technically, the whole technical team has done a very good job,” he said.
The Gambia U20 will participate in the FIFA U20 World Cup, for the first time in the country’s history, in May 2023.