A west African derby between Guinea and Gambia that promises to light up the Round of 16

CAFonline

Guinea will miss star player Naby Keita through suspension as they date Gambia in a west African derby that promises to light up the Round of 16 this evening from 18:00hrs CAT.

The Liverpool midfielder has been orchestrating every move that the team makes at the tournament, as evident by his two Man of the Match awards in opening games against Malawi and Senegal.

The Syli Nationale picked up 4 points, beating Malawi 1-0, having a a goalless draw with Senegal before losing 2-1 to Zimbabwe, but still they had done enough to finish in second place.

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Guinea coach Kaba Diawara will need to find the right strategy to make his frontline get the goals against a very dangerous Scorpions’ side.

“We have reached an important stage and I told my players we have to treat the game as a final,” Diawara at a prematch press conference. “In 2019 we were knocked out on the same stage, but we want it better this time round.

“We have to be very careful approaching the game against a very good Gambia team. What we want is to have the best start against Gambia as we seek the important win that will elevate us to the quarterfinals.”

His midfielder Amadou Diawara said: “We are playing against a very solid team that has not lost a match in the tournament despite being debutants. We respect them, but we all are going for a win and nothing else.

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“We realize the importance of this game because a win will give a lot of hope to our people back at home. We will play just like we would be playing in a final.”

The debutants from Gambia have been impressive and have literally punched above their weight. 

Their Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet molded a side that is disciplined, fearless and deadly. Gambia picked up an impressive 7 points from a group that had two favorites in Mali and Tunisia. 

They managed a 1-0 win against Mauritania, a 1-1 draw against Mali, and saved the best for last stunning Tunisia in that late stoppage time 1-0 victory.

Besides conceding a lone goal from the spot, they also have a potent strike force with the likes Musa Barrow and Ablie Jallow.

“Guinea are the favorites, but that actually gives us a lot of motivation because we are in the knockout stages in our first appearance,” Saintfiet said.

We are not afraid as we have been together with the players for over three years, meaning we have cohesion and great team spirit. Kaba Diawara was my player in Qatar.

“We can employ different styles and approaches in different match situations. We want nothing short of a win and Guinea must be prepared for a proper duel.”

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His midfielder Sulayman Marreh said: “Everybody in the team is very motivated. Even though we know Guinea are favorites on paper, they should expect a good game as it is our intention to get the victory.

“We have played every game like a final and that is the same game plan we have against Guinea. Our motivation as players is getting a new challenge and coming out victorious.”

This will be the first AFCON encounter between the two sides while Guinea are unbeaten against teams making their debut in the competition (W3 D2).

Despite reaching the knock-out stages in three consecutive AFCON participations (2015, 2019 and this year), Guinea have only won two of their last 12 games in the competition (D6 L4).

Gambia (W2 D1) remain unbeaten in three matches that helped reach their first AFCON knockout stage and could become just the second 21st century debutants not to lose any of their first four matches in the competition, after Madagascar in 2019 (W2 D2).

Guinea are looking to win their first knock-out match at the AFCON at the sixth attempt, having lost all five of their previous such attempts – losing in the Round of 16 most recently in 2019 (0-3 against Algeria).

Going into the Round of 16 matches, no team has used more players at the 2021 AFCON than debutants Gambia (24, level with Nigeria and Cameroon).