By Sulayman Bah
Winger Demba Savage is on the brink of setting a new record in Gambia tomorrow when he will become the first Gambia international to play in Europa League group stage since the tournament’s rebranding.
Previously called the Uefa Cup, the Europa League is Europe’s second most competitive club competition, second best to the Champions League.
And since its rebranding in 2009-10 season prompted by change in format, no Gambian footballer had ever qualified to the lucrative group stage with bulk of majority having to make do with stopping in the preliminaries.
Savage will go down in Finnish club HJK books as a revered figure after helping them in the 3-3 second-leg stalemate against Austrian side Rapid Wien in the final round of the Europa League play-off.
The 25-year-old Gambian stepped up to rifle from the spot-kick after being roughed up in the box to put HJK ahead though the home side leveled matters, but it proved wholly meaningless in a match that witnessed a blizzard of goals.
He’s expected to start when his club HJK travels to take on Denmark League champions Copenhagen in the first-leg.
HJK will receive €1.3 million for participating in the Europa League as base fee. Victory in the group will yield €200,000, a draw €100,000. Group winner gets €400,000 and runner-up €200,000
HJK are seeded in Group B along with Copenhagen, Belgian side Club Brugge and Italy’s Torin.