THE other day I took a glance at the U-17 finals which are officially referred to as the African Youth Championship (AYC) and which, as we all know, are expected to be hosted by Tanzania in 2019, again which is just around the corner; and I must admit, cold sweat ran down my spine.
The tournament's defending champions are Mali and the teams that fought their way to the 2019 finals in Dar es Salaam through qualifications in their respective zones or regional set up like CECAFA or COSAFA are Uganda, Angola, Morocco, Senegal, Mali from the virtue of being defending champions, Nigeria, Cameroon and Tanzania from the virtue of being tournament's hosts.
Now one of the reasons why cold sweat ran down my spine is that some of the best known soccer nations in Africa, but which failed to qualify for the AYC soccer tournament includes Ghana, South Africa, Zambia, Egypt and Tunisia, countries which, as we all know, are very much advanced in the development of their players through well established and scientifically run soccer academies.
The implication of what I saw, in terms of teams which have qualified for the Dar soccer tournament, is that teams that Serengeti Boys are expected to take on are very strong on account of teams they eliminated from their respective zones.
For instance, Uganda eliminated their Tanzanian counterparts, Serengeti Boys from the CECAFA tournament and Angola eliminated tough customers like Zambia and South Africa from the COSAFA zone; and if you consider that just last year Zambia played in the U-20 World Cup which saw England emerging winners, then you should wonder why Zambia's U-17 failed to overcome Angola in the COSAFA group.
The same thing can be more or less said about soccer zones where 2019 AYC finalists like Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria and Cameroon came from, after eliminating soccer power houses like Tunisia and Ghana which have more than once qualified not only for the Africa Cup of Nations, Afcon, but also for the Fifa World Cup.
What does the foregoing scenario portray? It simply means that if we want our Serengeti Boys to do well in the 2019 AYC against the likes of Senegal, Mali, Angola, Uganda, Morocco, Nigeria and Cameroon, then Serengeti Boys who are in the tournament by virtue of being hosts, need to be better prepared.
Better preparation does not mean confining the team in residential training, but rather providing them with top-flight friendly matches in Africa andEurope. And, unless that is done now and not later, Tanzania soccer fans would be spectators in next year's continental soccer show-piece.
My assertion is that they would be spectators if Serengeti Boys are eliminated in the group stages of the tournament.
On Thursday night while in Dodoma I told a senior official with the ministry of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports that they are very much unlikely to succeed in their Uzalendo (patriotism) building project, which they launched with pomp and pageantry in Dodoma on Friday until and unless they effectively used Serengeti Boys in the 2019 AYC soccer tournament.
And, using Serengeti Boys in the 2019 AYC soccer tournament means ensuring that the team goes all the way to the finals, and if possible, lifts, the AYC trophy in the finals. But we all know that Serengeti Boys will not succeed in such a mammoth task if the team is not well prepared.
I told the official that they need to invest in the team now, that giving or promising the team big prize, in money, after every match is not going to help the nation if the team is not well prepared before the start of the tournament.
In fact, if the team is thoroughly prepared before the tournament, the government or anyone for that matter does not need to promise the players anything as they would do what is expected of them.
For instance, we can all recall how Serengeti Boys who had provided the local soccer fans with massive entertainment wept at the National Stadium when they lost against Uganda in the final having beaten the same team, hands down, in the preliminaries.
During our Thursday socialisation with the ministry's official at Fantasy Village in Dodoma, I told the official one way of investing in the Serengeti Boys is providing them with training deep in Europe, say in Germany, Spain or France where the team could play a series of friendly matches against U-17s, U-20s and other lower league teams.
In fact, that is exactly what Cameroon's wonder national soccer team, the Indomitable Lions of Italia 90 did. The bulk of their players who played in second and third league in France were brought together and given three months of training which mostly consisted of a series of friendly matches against clubs from division one to three.
And by the time the Fifa World Cup started in Italy in June 1990, the Indomitable Lions had in three months played a total of 69 friendly matches against clubs from second to first division in France, Germany, Spain and Italy.
Ultimately, it was not surprising that they would become the first African team in the Fifa World Cup's history to reach the quarter finals of the tournament. It was through Cameroon's success in the Italia 90 Fifa World Cup that the world soccer governing body would increase the number of African teams in the tournament from three to five.
The Indomitable Lions started the Italia 90 by beating, in the opening match of the tournament, the 1986 Fifa World Cup Champions, Argentina which had Diego Maradona in the team.
In the quarterfinals against England's Three Lions, the Indomitable Lions twice led the British team and the latter would only come back twice after being provided with dubious penalties by the Mexican referee who would go into retirement after the end of the Fifa World Cup.
What Cameroon did before the Italia 90 Fifa World Cup was also done by South Africa when they applied to CAF to host the January 1996 Afcon finals in South Africa.
From 1994 to January 1996, the South African national soccer team, Bafana Bafana played a total of 65 friendly matches against top teams from Africa and the world that included Afcon and Fifa World Cup Champions.
Three days before the start of the Afcon tournament in South Africa, Bafana Bafana played a friendly match against the 1990 Fifa World Cup champions, Germany in a match that ended in a goalless draw. In short, that is exactly what Serengeti Boys need to do before the start of the tournament if both the government and the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF) want the team to build Uzalendo (patriotism) in this country.
For a winning team from the start to the end of the tournament would witness millions of Tanzanians not only associating themselves with the team that is doing very well on the pitch, but they would be going to the stadium clad in national colours of yellow, green and blue and carrying miniature flags and that is how you start building Uzalendo.
You build Uzalendo by making Tanzanians; first associate themselves with the winning national soccer team and later by preparing them for commitment for their nation in various national building activities. And in the end, you have youths who are prepared to lay down their lives for the defence of their nation.
Any youth who ready to die for Tanzania, will not be involved in corruption and other illicit deals that includes doing drugs. Actually, that's what some of us witnessed when dictator, General Idi Amin Dada invaded the Kagera Salient on October 25th 1978.
We saw old men giving their rifles to the government with others asking the government to allow them to take part in the war. We witnessed youth streaming, on their own volition, to national service camp, pledging to include in training in readiness for Idi Amin's troops.
And that is how a 30,000 troop of militia was built with only 15,000 TPDF men taking part in the eight month bush war that saw the ignominious defeat of Amin in the Tanzania, Uganda War. A total of 45,000 Tanzanian troops took part in that war. wIt was possible then because there was plenty of Uzalendo during the time.
The question is would that spirit be replicated if Tanzania was faced with an enemy similar to the one she faced in 1978? That is why what Dr Harrison Mwakyembe's ministry did on Friday last week, namely, to launch Uzalendo is extremely important and need to be supported by each and every Tanzanian.
But we need to start the project with Serengeti Boys. We need to thoroughly prepare this team for the forthcoming AYC soccer tournament. That is the only way that the team can do well in the tournament and ultimately, enhance the Uzalendo project.