Dar es Salaam — The national Under-17 soccer team, Serengeti Boys, will be looking to get their 2017 Africa Youth Championship off to a flying start when they take on defending champions Mali in Libreville, Gabon today.
The Group B match kicks off at 5.30pm at the Stade De L'Amitié Sino in Libreville and the team's technical advisor, Kim Poulsen, brims with confidence ahead of the eagerly awaited clash.
"We have trained these boys to believe in themselves and approach the game with a lot of tactical discipline," Poulsen told The Citizen by phone from Libreville yesterday.
"Our first objective is to win our first match and that would give us the opportunity to consolidate in the next matches in order to play in the World Cup because we have not had the opportunity to play at that level before," he said.
The match will be handled by referee Ferdinand Udoh Aniete from Nigeria, according to the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
The biennial continental got underway yesterday with hosts Gabon tackling Guinea in the opening match at the Stade de Port Gentil.
Serengeti Boys, who are making their first appearance at the finals of the continental championship, have been in Libreville since last week, perfecting their tactics for what promises to be a bruising clash.
Poulsen believes reaching the semi-finals and picking one of the available four tickets to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India in October, would be a major feat.
The Tanzanian boys underwent intensive training in Morocco and Cameroon for nearly two months ahead of the Gabon finals.
Back at home, local soccer fans have kept their fingers crossed, praying that the boys floor the title-holders. Tanzania Football Federation (TFF) secretary general, Mwesigwa Celestine, who is also in Gabon with the team, expressed optimism that the boys will do Tanzanians proud in the championship.
"The boys acquired the skills and exposure they need to shine in Gabon during their camp in Morocco and Cameroon," Mwesigwa said.
"Although they are far away from home now, they are not distracted because they have the mind of playing against other players of the same age bracket with them. They are focused on the assignment at hand," the TFF official added.
He called on Tanzanians to pray for the boys, who are reportedly in high spirits, raring to give the Malians a run for their money.
He said Poulsen and his 'crew' have targeted this match as must-win for their troops (ahead of matches against other Group B opponents Niger and Angola), but he acknowledged that the title holders will be tough to beat.
Serengeti Boys, with coach Bakari Shime at the helm, enter the continental championship as one of the dark horses to go all the way.
Shime's main aim is to qualify for the semi-finals and thereby earn a spot at the FIFA U-17 World Cup later this year, but believes his side is capable of claiming a first AYC title.