18 November 2018

Tanzania: Ball in Stars Court to Qualify

THE ball is in the national football team, Taifa Stars' court to end their 38-year wait and qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals, if they win against host Lesotho in Maseru today.

This follows Uganda Cranes 1-0 win over Cape Verde in a group L match at the Mandela (Namboole) National Stadium in Kampala yesterday. The Cranes have now qualified for the Cameroon finals, sitting top of the group on 13 points with a game to go.

Taifa Stars arrived in Maseru on Friday, ready to face the hosts in the penultimate group L encounter of the qualifiers. For Stars, this match would to a great extent decide whether or not they would be in Cameroon for AFCON finals next year.

Indeed, this is the first time in many years that Stars have the golden opportunity of making it to the AFCON for the first time since 1980.

On five points, Stars are second in their qualifying group behind leaders Uganda, while Cape Verde remain third on four points with just a game to go. Lesotho are placed bottom of the group with two points.

Both Stars and Lesotho have two games to go. And, nothing but a win today will see Emmanuel Amunike's charges booing their place into the finals

The last time the Stars featured at the finals, none of the current crop of players were born. In fact, coach Amunike was a 10-year-old preteenager in Eziobodo -Nigeria, while some 559 km away, the Super Eagles thrashed Tanzania 3-0 in the opening match of the 1980 edition also in Nigeria.

It was the first and only time Stars had qualified for what was then an eight nations tournament which was split into two groups of four. Stars lost two of the three matches -- 3-0 to Nigeria and 2-1 to Egypt and claimed their only point in the 1-1 draw against Ivory Coast as they bowed out in the first round. Ever since then, they have never qualified again for the biannual spectacle.

Stars pitched a ten-day camp in Bloemfontein, South Africa, to prepare for the battle to be held at Setsoto Stadium in Lesotho capital, Maseru.

Coach Amunike said: "We decided to camp in Blue Mountain because of its proximity to Lesotho and shares similar variations like weather.

"We camped there so that we could fully concentrate on the task ahead. "By God's grace and luck on our side we pray for the three points against Lesotho in their home ground on Sunday (today)," he said.

However, the team will be without dependable right wing back, Shomary Kapombe. The defender picked a serious ankle injury during the teams' training in Bloemfontein on Thursday. Stars will also be without skipper Mbwana Samatta, who is suspended for picking two yellow cards.

Regardless, coach Amunike is confident that he has depth in his squad to replace the Kapombe and Samatta. Hassan Kessy, who features with Zambia side, Nkana Rangers could be direct replaced for Kapombe but versatile Erasto Nyoni could also perfectly fit in the position.

For Samatta, coach Amunike has enough alternatives with the availability of Thomas Ulimwengu, John Bocco and Shabaan Iddi Chilunda. Stars players are in great shape and morale ahead of today's game despite missing their in-form striker Samatta, who ply trade with Belgian side KRC Genk. In their first leg match against Lesotho played at the Chamazi Complex in Dar es Salaam early last year, Taifa Stars settled for a 1-1 draw.

On Friday, Prime Minister, Kassim Majaliwa said it is turn for Tanzania to walk in to the AFCON finals as he bestowed hope for Taifa Stars ahead of their away return leg qualifier against Lesotho.

In his speech to adjourn the 11th Parliament, 13th meeting here yesterday, the Premier said this time around there is a clear path for Stars to reach the finals after almost four decades.

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