The Gambia secured their place at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) with a dramatic 2-2 draw against Congo Brazzaville in Marrakesh on Sunday night.
Gambia’s Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet said several of his squad members did not want to play the game.
Fearing that “a plane had crashed into the hotel” and calling the experience “very scary”, Saintfiet and his squad slept outdoors next to the swimming pool of their hotel as they were concerned about remaining indoors.
Despite the team’s disturbed preparations, the Scorpions showed their mettle and fought back from two goals down with just over ten minutes remaining to book their place at January’s finals in Ivory Coast.
An early goal from Gaius Makouta was quickly followed by a Silvere Ganvoula penalty to give Congo a 2-0 lead, before Newcastle United teenager Yankuba Minteh scoree in the 79th minute to spark the comeback.
On the stroke of full-time, Muhammed Badamosi hit a last-gasp equaliser to ensure The Gambia finished behind group winners Mali in second, qualifying for the Afcon for the second time in their history.
After nearly half a century of trying but failing to qualify for Africa’s flagship sporting event, The Gambia has now reached back-to-back finals and will hope to build on their surprise quarter-final run last time out.
Friday’s earthquake occurred 71 kilometres south-west of Marrakesh, and Sunday’s game was able to take place as the Stade de Marrakesh is located 11 kilometres to the north of the city.
The fixture had was held in Morocco because none of The Gambia’s stadia meet the standard required by the Confederation of African Football to host international fixtures.
In other Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers on Sunday, Nigeria ended their Group A campaign on a high with a resounding 6-0 home win over Sao Tome and Principe.
Napoli striker Victor Osimhen was in great form with a hat-trick, taking his tally to seven goals in the group against Sao Tome, as the Super Eagles flew high in Uyo.
Ademola Lookman, Taiwo Awoniyi and Samuel Chukwueze completed the scoring for Nigeria against a side they beat 10-0 in the reverse fixture.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Cape Verde – who had already qualified from Group B with Burkina Faso – lost 3-2 away to Togo in Lome.
Sunday’s results mean there are only two more spots up for grabs in the tournament.
Cameroon meet Burundi in Group C on Tuesday and the outcome of the match in Garoua will determine which two of Burundi, Cameroon and Namibia go to the finals.
Already qualified are Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, DR Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia and Zambia.
They will all join host nation Ivory Coast at the finals.