By Own Correspondent – The magnificent Gambia national U20 team yesterday morning returned to Banjul from Abidjan via Dakar after they have booked their ticket to the next year’s African U20 youth tournament in Libya at the expense of Cote D’Ivoire.
A good number of spectators converged at the airport to welcome home their heroes, who made every Gambian proud with a spectacular display in Abidjan at the weekend.
A decisive 43rd minute strike by captain and playmaker Saihou Gassama, who plies his trade in Spain with Real Zaragoza, ensured coach Lamin Sarr and his outstanding lads advance to the championship with a 2-nil aggregate win over the highly-rated Young Elephants of Ivory Coast.
The U20 team, who were the bronze medalists in the biennial event in Congo Brazzaville in their first appearance three years ago, are the first from the continent to berth a qualification place.
They began the qualifiers in a stunning fashion as famous coach Lamin Sarr and his determined Gambian side enjoyed a humiliating 4-1 win over Sierra Leone in Banjul and went ahead to hold Shooting Stars to a stalemate result in Freetown to progress to the next stage on a 4-1 win aggregate.
The team that travelled to Abidjan with little expectations from the Gambian people, following an unconvincing performance during the first leg in Banjul a month ago, proved all doubters wrong by recording a decisive and much needed 1-nil win against the much fancied Ivorian side to ensure a qualification berth.
The Gambian team, who were given a bye into the first round of the qualifying campaign, managed to keep hold on their deserved 1-nil lead for the best part of what appeared to be a mouth-watering second half at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium in Abidjan.
The elated coach Lamin Sarr, who was widely criticised from almost every corners for what many referred to as his lack of management skill, has proven his critics wrong by guiding the team to its second continental championship.
Appointed to take charge of the Gambia national U20 team on temporal basis, Sarr was considered the most unpopular Gambian coach in the build-up to the qualifiers.
Many Gambian football pundits have begun to turn their attention to the man who was widely regarded as the underdog in Gambian football when he failed in his attempt to lead the team to the 2009 African U20 youth championship in Rwanda.
He has eventually become the second Gambian local coach to guide the U20 team to the continental youth championship after Peter Bonu Jonhson in 2007.
Libya will host the tournament that runs from 18 March to 1 April 2011.