Tanzania/Tunisia: The Days of Meeting Underdogs in Afcon Over

opinion

LAST night Taifa Stars were supposed to have played against their hosts, Tunisia in an Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier match. Tunisia, as we all know, cannot in any way be compared with us. This is a team that has qualified for the Fifa World Cup at least three times.

The first time they took part in the Fifa World Cup was in 1998 when the tournament was held in France with the hosts winning the tournament for the first time. The second time Tunisia qualified for the Fifa World Cup was in 2002 when the tournament was jointly organised by South Korea and Japan.

And the last time they took part in the Fifa World Cup finals was in 2006 when the tournament was hosted by Germany as a united nation following the unification of the country on October 3rd 1990.

Tunisia has therefore won Afcon once, participated in the Fifa World Cup finals three times and the Olympics six times. Now this is the national soccer team that Taifa Stars were supposed to have played against last time, a team that would never allow Taifa Stars to stand on their way.

If you analysed, critically, the way the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has organised teams, it is not difficult to note that in the first round of qualifiers, the weak were paired against the weakest. But this round things have changed. They organised the remaining weakest against the strongest in the continent.

This explains why Taifa Stars have now been paired against Tunisia. Had they been winning against slightly stronger teams like Kenya, Burundi and Malawi, Tanzania could have been against teams they could have had the chance of getting to the Afcon finals.

The few matches which have already been played show that teams which were barely a few years ago considered underdogs, are no longer so! These include our neighbours to the north, Kenya. Their national soccer team, Harambee Stars were yesterday held to a one all draw by the Comoros.

The Comoros is an archipelago of French and Kiswahili speaking tiny islands in the Indian Ocean and their soccer, illustrated by what happened on Thursday this week, has been growing from strength to strength.

Harambee Stars are now scheduled to fly to the Comoros for the return leg against their counterparts next Sunday. And their chief coach, Ghost Mulee, on Thursday admitted to journalists after the match played at the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi that their return leg match in the Comoros will be extremely tough.

Indeed, if Harambee Stars failed to beat the Comoros in their own backyard, it is very much unlikely for them to win against their counterparts in their own turf. This is exactly what happened to Taifa Stars a few weeks ago when they were beaten by Burundi in a friendly match played at the Benjamin Mkapa Stadium.

Yet barely over two decades ago, Burundi were neither here nor there when it came to matters relating to football. For instance, I remember this day when one of their leading soccer clubs were beaten seven goals to nil by Young Africans. Today no Tanzanian soccer club can do that to a Burundian or Rwandan soccer club.

Indeed, how can they when Burundians are training Tanzanian soccer clubs, including the Taifa Stars? Tanzania which had been one of the leading soccer nations in the region has now been transformed to a level where England was when they had to get the services of a Swedish soccer coach before they later turned to an Italian coach.

England national soccer team, the three lions turned to Swedish and Italian soccer coaches from countries they had barely a few years back had beaten them in international soccer matches at will! The same thing has happened to our neighbours, Kenya.

They were on Thursday stopped by of all the teams, the Comoros. These French speaking countries are increasingly becoming extremely difficult to win against.

Again, if you looked critically at this development, you will discover that French speaking African youths have all of sudden realised that soccer is one of the few avenues they could use to get out of poverty. A case in point is that of island nations like Mauritius, Madagascar and Seychelles.

Barely two decades ago, could East African nations get good results against the three Indian Ocean countries. But this is no more and Madagascar just proved that in the last Afcon finals when they went beyond the group stages of the tournament.

But we all know why the Comoros, the Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar have all of sudden become soccer power houses. They plunged into the establishment of soccer academies which have in turn seen their graduates joining French soccer clubs where they honed their skills and later played for their nations.

The point is, as long as we drag our feet in issues related to soccer academies, we will continue to play second fiddle in any continental or global soccer tournament.

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