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Africa Cup of Nations

Afcon 2021: Saintfiet targets spot in 2026 World Cup finals with The Gambia

2:21 AM IST 28/01/22
Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Afcon.
The Belgian tactician has already made history with the Scorpions and is now eyeing a bigger achievement with the West Africans

Coach Tom Saintfiet has set his sights on ‘developing’ The Gambia in a bid to see them commanding respect in Africa and also qualifying for the 2026 Fifa World Cup finals.

The Scorpions - making their debut appearance at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations finals – are one of the surprise teams in Cameroon having reached the quarter-finals.

The West Africans finished as runners-up in Group F having garnered seven points from three matches, recording victories over Mauritania and Tunisia.

In the Round of 16, they silenced Guinea 1-0 with Musa Barrow scoring the only goal of the game at Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam.

Ahead of Gambia’s fixture against hosts Cameroon, the Belgian revealed his target is to ensure his side becomes a regular in the biennial African showpiece as well as secure qualification to the 2026 World Cup to be co-hosted by Canada, Mexico and the United States of Africa.

“I want to develop this team in order to get respect in Africa and this is the best objective because you can do a good tournament once and never qualify later, which isn't good,” Saintfiet was quoted by BBC Sport Africa.

"We are here to reach our limits, to build the team of the future, because I want The Gambia, not only in these quarter-finals but to be in 2023, 2025 [Nations Cups], and at the World Cup in 2026 when nine African countries will be able to participate."

Victory over the Indomitable Lions will see the team ranked 150th in the world earn a place in the last four where they would square up against Egypt or Morocco for a place in the final.

Regardless of the outcome at the Japoma Stadium in Douala, the 48-year-old stated that the main goal is building a team for the future.

"We want to learn and be better in the future," he added.

"But now that we are here, we want to stay for a long time. What happens Saturday won't change a lot about our feelings but the team, the players and the staff we have one goal and we will see what is possible."