TAIFA Stars kick off their road to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar campaign away in Bujumbura today, as they face hosts Burundi in the first leg of the African qualifier preliminary round.
Stars squad led by skipper Mbwana Samatta arrived in Bujumbura yesterday afternoon, confidently to post positive results in a match to be hosted at the Prince Louis Rwagasore Stadium in Bujumbura.
The return leg encounter will be played at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam on Sunday. The hosts had a good home record in their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying matches, as they never lost at their home turf after winning all their qualification games.
Both teams, however, cruised into the AFCON finals which were played in Egypt and neither of them managed to win any game out of the three matches they played.
Burundi finished on fourth place from their group B pack whereas Stars also sat on 4th slot without any point after three clashes.
Ahead of today's game against 'Int'hamba Murugamba as Burundi are popularly known, Stars interim Head Coach, Burundian tactician Etienne Ndayiragije said that it will be a tough call.
The Burundian tactician is aware that the game against his native side is going to be tough, insisting that their opponents have a good squad that comprised some fresh blood. He also said that players from both teams know each other well, making the clash tough.
Ndayiragije took charge of the team from Nigerian football legend, Emmanuel Amunike, who parted ways with the team on mutual agreement, after unsatisfactory performance in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals in Egypt last June.
"We are aware that our opponents have a good team, which had also participated in AFCON finals this year, but we are well prepared to face them and we are looking forward for a competitive, tough and thrilling away game," he said.
On his side, Stars Assistant Coach, Selemani Matola said they are well drilled and ready for a tough assignment, saying players are in high spirit, fit and ready for the encounter.
"After days of intensive preparations, our players are ready for the clash... they know that the match is vital for the country's campaign to 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar," Matola said.
Stars' experienced goalkeeper, Juma Kaseja expressed readiness of the team ahead of today's clash but was also quick to caution his team mates, saying they need to be at their best to stop the Burundians.
Meanwhile, Taifa Stars have been urged to play with respect against Burundi in today's 2022 World Cup qualifying first leg match to be played in Bujumbura.
Expressing his opinion about the game, former Simba SC and Stars defender Boniface Pawassa insisted that the only way which can uplift the country's flag bearers is to respect their opponents.
"The journey to 2022 World Cup qualification should begin tomorrow (today) against Burundi and we should not wait until the final game to qualify as we did in AFCON contest," he said.
"During my playing time, I faced them (Burundi) on several occasions and I know how good they are especially in their territory hence Stars should be cautious and play with much discipline," said Pawassa.
He then expressed his optimism that Stars have a big advantage to do well bearing in mind that the team's interim coach Etienne Ndayiragije is a Burundian as such, he knows them better than we do.
"The most important thing here is to get tangible results from Bujumbura because here at home, I have no doubt with the national team to do well," he remarked. Should Taifa Stars see off Burundi, they will be one of the 14 winners in the qualification playoffs to join the continent's top-ranked 26 sides, who have been exempted from the preliminary stage of the long journey to Qatar.
Qualifiers for the next World Cup in Qatar will be divided into three stages with two rounds of knockout ties on either side of league competition, officials said.
The 28 lowest ranked sides on the continent will first contest a knockout round over two legs, with the 14 winners advancing to the group stage.