Downs coach makes AFCON history

AFCON News

Mamelodi Sundowns strength and conditioning coach Riedoh Berdien has made history alongside Belgian tactician Tom Saintfiet by helping the Gambia qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Berdien who holds the same role with the Gambia national team has played a crucial role alongside the former Free State Stars coach as the small West African nation qualified for AFCON for the first time in their history.

While it will be the third side the South African coach helped towards AFCON after Botswana (2011) and Togo (2017), the latest feat is ranked as the most rewarding with the nation holding a population of just over two million.

"It's been amazing here, you know it's a very small and poor country in terms of football as well and for them to qualify for a major event is massive," Berdien who joined the Scorpians in June 2018 tells KickOff.com.

"For personally it's the third time I've helped an African nation qualify for AFCON but this is the best one because nobody gave us a chance to get out of the group [with Angola, DR Congo and Gabon] - when I qualified with Togo in 2017 it was with a country expected to be in AFCON so that's why I this one is massive."

Berdien revealed the streets were 'chaotic' after their 1-0 win over Angola sealed qualification from Group D alongside Gabon as they took nearly two hours just to navigate away from the Independence Stadium in Bakau.

Scroll through the gallery to see the 14 teams that have already qualified for Cameroon 2021

"For the players, the coach [Saintfiet] and the technical team is something quite special and also these people over here it means so much for them. You start to realise that you are happier for them than you are for yourself.

"Fans weren't able to watch the game but the street were full, even in this pandemic. Outside the stadium it was chaos, it took us like an hour and 35 minutes just to get out so the scenes here were incredible, which personally is a good satisfaction to bring happiness to the people."

With the dual role working with the Brazilians, the 38-year-old admits it's a demanding schedule personally but the recent results he's witnessed with both squads has personally vindicated the sacrifices he's made. 

"It's been challenging working with a national team and a club like Sundowns who have Champions League ambitions," he admitted.

"It's obviously something demanding to prepare teams, prepare players physically to compete at the highest level.

"So yeah, it's rewarding when you see the fruits being seen, I think all the hard is being paid off and all the sacrifices made to be away from the family is something challenging but you always look to meet the family after these achievements which brings a special joy."

Gambia are currently en route to Kinshasa where they will face the wounded DR Congo national team for their final group stage clash.

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