Kickoff; 13 hours
Burundi and Gambia get the ball rolling in Group F of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers when they go head-to-head at the Benjamin Mkapa National Stadium on Thursday.
Off the back of contrasting results in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, both sides will look to get one over the other and begin their World Cup dream on a high.
Burundi was left spitting feathers on September 12 as they fell to a 3-0 hammering at the hands of Cameroon in the Group C finale of the 2023 AFCON qualifiers.
Following a relatively uneventful first half at the RoumdeAdjia Stadium, Bryan Mbuemo, Christopher Wooh and Besiktas striker Vincent Aboubakar scored second-half goals to hand the Indomitable Lions a comfortable victory.
September’s loss to Cameroon saw Burundi finish rock bottom in Group C, narrowly missing out on a first AFCON appearance since 2019 by one point to runners-up Namibia.
Jimmy Ndayizeye’s men, who are currently 142nd in the latest FIFA World Rankings, now return home, have now failed to win six of their last seven matches across all competitions, losing four and picking up two draws since November 2022.
Burundi’s only victory in that time came on June 20, when they beat Namibia 3-2 at the Benjamin Mkapa National Stadium — their first competitive victory since claiming a 3-1 win over Mauritania in November 2020.
Gambia, on the other hand, turned in a superb show of fighting spirit in their last outing of the 2023 AFCON qualifiers as they fought back from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw against Congo Republic on September 10.
In an action-packed contest at the Stade de Marrakech, Gaius Makouta and SilvereGanvoula scored first-half goals to put Congo Republic in a commanding lead but Yankuba Minteh and Muhammed Badammosi scored in the final 11 minutes to force a share of the spoils.
Having made their first AFCON appearance two years ago, Tom Saintfiet’s men picked up 10 points from six matches to finish second in Group G and secure successive appearances in the continental tournament.
Like Thursday’s hosts, Gambia are yet to feature in the World Cup, but came closest in 2008, when they finished second in Group 6 of the qualifiers, just one point behind first-placed Algeria.
While the Scorpions will look to begin their qualifying campaign on a high, they have struggled to grind out results away from home, where they have failed to win four of their last five games across all competitions.
Ndayizeye has called up 27 players for the qualifying games against Gambia and Gabon, with the likes of Fiston Abdul Razak and Bandari FC defender Shassir Nahimana headlining the squad.
Former Mamelodi Sundowns man Razak is two appearances shy of 50 senior caps and should lead the Burundi attack once again, while Sofapaka FC captain David Nshirimimana is a surprise omission.
Meanwhile, Gambia have named a 27-man squad for their upcoming qualifying matches, including the likes of goalkeeper Baboucarr Gaye, Cardiff City’s Ebou Adams and skipper Omar Colley.
Former Bologna striker Musa Barrow, who has five goals in 32 caps since his debut in September 2018, should lead the Scorpions attack once again, alongside Assan Ceesay and Atalanta’s Ebrima Colley.
Teenage midfielder Mahmudu Bajo has also earned his maiden call-up to the Gambia senior squad and the Podbrezova man will be looking to make his debut on Thursday.
Burundi possible starting lineup:
Rukundo; Nduwarugira, Nsabiyumva, Mukombozi; Aruna, Ndayishimiye, Bigirimana, Nahimana, Omar; Razak, Hussein
Gambia possible starting lineup:
Gaye; Sundberg, Gomez, Colley, Sanneh; Manneh, Adams, Barry; Barrow, Ceesay, Colley.
Prediction: Burundi 0-2 Gambia
Gambia head into their group opener unbeaten in their last three matches and will be licking their lips as they take on a Burundi side which managed just two competitive wins since the start of 2021. Given the gulf in quality between the two sides, we predict the Scorpions will claim all three points in this one.