By Bulli Sowe January 17, 2022
The soccer rivalry between these two nations who have a lot in common, dates to the early 70s way before the Amilcar Cabral tourneys. The Gambia joined the confederation of African football in 1962 before attainment of independence and FIFA in 1966 one year after independence.
The first time The Gambia played against Mali was 3rd October 1972 at the Stade Du 26 Mars. The match became that of pride between two friendly rivals.
Prior to the match, the Malian team had just returned from competing in the Summer Olympics in Munich then West Germany. The same year in March 1972, Mali went on to play in the AFCON Final in Cameroon where they lost 3-2 to Congo. In October, The Gambia travelled to Bamako and defeated the AFCON Finalist 3-1.
Since then, the two nations had been playing against each other in an annual tournament known as the Amilcar Cabral Cup. In 1979 Bissau hosted the Amilcar Cabral cup and The Gambia and Mali were drawn in Group A alongside Guinea and Mauritania. This time Mali got their revenge in a 1-0 victory against the Scorpions. We finished third in the group and couldn’t make it to the knockout stage.
Again in 1981, few months before the bloody 81′ Coup led by Kukoi, the Amilcar Cabral cup returns and this time Mali was the host country. We did not only suffered a humiliating defeat in the hands of the Malians but finished bottom in the group. Guinea went on to win the tournament in a 6-5 penalty shootout against Mali.
In 1982 we shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw during the AC tournament. On 14 Nov 1982 during the AFCON Qualifications, we lost 3-1 away to Mali and in a fortnight in Banjul, despite facing an injury-hit side, the Scorpions earned a vital 3 points in a 1-0 victory.
In July 1983, The Gambia participated in the maiden ECOWAS Cup and faced Mali in its first game which ended in a 1-1 draw. In 1985 Senegal hosted the Amilcar Cabral Cup and The Gambia defeated Mali 1-0 in the Knockout stage and went on to play the final against the host Senegal which we lost 1-0.
The Gambia played an international friendly against Mali in March 1988 and won 2-1 in Bamako and in November 1991 we beat them at 1-0 in another International friendly. In 1997 The Gambia hosted the Amilcar Cup for the first time. The Gambia finished top of
Group A and went on to play Mali in the Semi-final. The Gambia lost 2-1 and went on to play third place vs Guinea only to be beaten again in a penalty shootout.
In 2001 Mali hosted the AC Cup for the second time and played The Gambia in the Semi-final. A 69-minute Edrisa Sonko’s strike was enough to send the Scorpions to the final against neighbors Senegal.
In 2017, The Gambia and Mali played to a goalless draw in the first leg of their 2018 AFCON Qualifiers. Mali went on to win 4-0 in the return leg in Bamako. Today 16 January 2022, The Gambia will once again lock horns with arch nemesis Mali in the Africa Cup of Nations.