Afcon 2021: Tom Saintfiet wants respect for The Gambia

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The Gambia's players celebrate victory over TunisiaThe Gambia are unbeaten four games into their first-ever Nations Cup, having beaten Mauritania, Tunisia and Guinea

The Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet says he wants the side to be "respected" and regular participants at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The Scorpions, ranked 150th in the world, have reached the last eight in Cameroon on their tournament debut.

"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," the Belgian said.

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."

The Gambia's lowly position in the world rankings is underlined by the fact they began their Nations Cup qualifying campaign in the preliminary round, where they needed penalties to beat Djibouti back in October 2019.

But the West Africans have been a revelation at the tournament, beating Mauritania and Tunisia to finish second in their group and then pulling off another upset in the last 16 against Guinea on Monday with another 1-0 victory.

The Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet on the side linesTom Saintfiet, who has coached national sides in four different Fifa confederations, was appointed by The Gambia in 2018

The Gambia remain unbeaten after four games at the tournament and now face hosts Cameroon in Douala in the quarter-finals on Saturday.

"We want to learn and be better in the future," Saintfiet, 48, 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."

Nations Cup 'full of surprises'

Despite their heroics so far at the Nations Cup, The Gambia will be back in preliminary qualifying for the 2023 tournament in Ivory Coast, facing Chad in a two-legged tie in March.external-link

Musa Barrow, who scored the winner against Guinea, says their run this year shows the continent's smaller countries are closing the gap to Africa's traditional heavyweights.

"It means a lot because if you see this Afcon there are a lot of surprises," the 23-year-old Bologna forward said.

"African football developed - so many small countries have good players. We are happy to be a part of it."

Fans of The GambiaSupporters of The Gambia have relished their participation in Cameroon
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