THE goalless draw valiant Serengeti Boys managed to pull out against the prematch, hot favourites and African Youth Championship (AYC) defending champions, Mali, on Monday this week in a match played in Libreville, in Gabon should be a major lesson to Tanzanians on what investment in football or any business for that matter can do if well done.
Serengeti Boys played against Mali like regulars in AYC soccer tournament because of three main things; one they are all a product of soccer academy, secondly, their coach, Bakari Shime, is specifically trained to coach soccer academy teams and lastly, but more importantly, the team was well prepared by the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF) and the government.
Personally, I have a lot of differences with the TFF and their President Jamal Malinzi on numerous issues that relate to the running of soccer in this country. But on this particular score, the way the man and his federation prepared Serengeti Boys for this tournament, the man deserves a pat on the back.
Jamal had done what he and his federation did for Serengeti Boys immediately he got into that hot seat, Tanzania would not have been where it is at the moment.
I know Serengeti Boys are unlikely to reach far in this tournament not because they are not good, but because of inexperience. But they are not going to let us down as a nation; they are going to do well and may win one or two matches.
The point is, finally we have the right team and the right crop of players for taking this nation to another level. Serengeti Boys’ performance, especially in the second half, should now serve as a major lesson to clubs like Simba, Young Africans and Azam FC.
I have specifically mentioned the three clubs because they have been representing this country in continental soccer clubs tournaments. The three clubs need to know that they cannot do well in continental soccer clubs tournaments as long as they continue to rely on those worn out players from nondescript soccer nations.
A lot of money was invested in Serengeti Boys in terms of getting them on board those soccer academies and when they were still small boys, the trial matches they were exposed to in their preparation for the AYC and the money spent in their residential training in Morocco and Cameroon.
As usual, on Monday, Mali came out firing on all cylinders, believing that they were going for a walk in the park. They tried to kill the game very early in the match, unfortunately for them, this was not the Tanzania team north and West Africans were used to in getting to the top. What was more, the refereeing was fantastic; it was another lesson to Tanzanian referees most of whom have made a profession out of favouring the teams they love.
The Malians tried even foul means of registering their first goal, when they went for the goalkeeper rather than the ball, but their ill-gotten goal was ruled out. Finally when they ran out of their steam and settled down to play, they met their match in a well-drilled Serengeti Boys who played according to the book of their coach, Bakari Shime. Serengeti Boys should not however, allow their good work against Mali on Monday to go into their heads.
They need to know that work has just started, that they are going to face more and stronger challenges from the likes of Angola and Niger. On Monday, there were times when they lost focus on the game.
They now need to change and play a more focused game, building patiently from the back. Serengeti Boys need to play their game. This is their first time in this tournament, meaning that, they have nothing to lose.
However, what we want from them is to play well, to show the rest of the continent and the world at large that they can thread well passes just like any good team under the sun.
As I noted in my column last week, Serengeti Boys have two major task; to win the tournament, if they can, but more importantly, to play for the scouts. In fact, nothing would hearten me than seeing most of them ending up in Europe as professional soccer players.
And for Serengeti Boys to get into professionalism in Europe, they need to showcase their game through thorough display of talent and skills which they have in galore.
And they can only do that if they settle down and play as if they were playing against a normal team. In short, they don’t need to play in haste as they did in their last 20 or so minutes of the game.
By playing their game, they would be able to force their opponents to emulate them and that’s where the world would be able to see the difference between their game and that of their opponents.
For instance, during the first opening minutes on Monday, the Malians tried to keep up a very fast pace in order to score their first goal as early as possible.
Although Serengeti Boys did their best to thwart Malian raids, but they also tried to emulate the Malians by playing a fast paced game and that was dangerous.
Serengeti need to force their game by keeping the ball, and dictating the pace of the game. We wish them all the best in subsequent matches.