Afcon 2021: Captain Colley proud to be part of The Gambia history

 Afcon 2021: Captain Colley proud to be part of The Gambia history

Underdogs The Gambia will create history when they play at the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time this month, with captain Omar Colley hoping the Scorpions can provide a real sting in Cameroon.

The West Africans, who have travelled a long twisting road to arrive at their first finals, are rated 150th in the world, the lowest-ranked side at the tournament.

But this is not deterring the players as they prepare to face Mali, Mauritania and Tunisia in the group stages.

“Each time, there is a surprise team – this time we hope it is The Gambia,” Colley told BBC Sport Africa.

Banned from qualifying as recently as the 2015 edition, The Gambian Football Federation (GFF) has raised its game by increasing incentives, bonuses as well as financial input into coaching staff.

The country also now boasts a number of players earning their living in top European leagues, including Colley at Italian club Sampdoria.

At 29, with 32 caps under his belt, the defender is aiming to make a lasting impact when they compete in Cameroon.

“I am excited not only for being the captain, but for the fact we are the first generation to achieve qualification,” he said. “For us it’s not a small thing and we made history for The Gambia.

“I am really happy and proud to get this chance and be part of the team. I hope there will be more and more tournaments to come and to still be part of it.

“I am a role model for young players and I always act to lead them forward, if possible, and help Gambian football develop.

Part of the GFF strategy to strengthen their team was to entrust it to Tom Saintfiet in 2018.

With a vast and varied experience in coaching clubs and national sides including Trinidad & Tobago, Malta and Bangladesh, the Belgian coach has achieved what many failed to before him.

“He’s a great motivator; he really believes in us and he says this is the best team The Gambia has ever had,” Colley said. “Even before we qualified, he proved statistical evidence for that. Stats never lie – we score more and we concede less than we used to.

“It was the time to qualify and we proved we could do it. He has a lot of experience and gave us a sense of self-confidence, and now here we are. We are very happy with him, it’s a perfect match.”