TANZANIA’S ‘wonder boys,’ Serengeti Boys flew out of Dar es Salaam for Antalya, Turkey over the weekend for a mini soccer tournament as part of their preparations for the African Youth Championship to be hosted by Tanzania in April this year.
In their first match on Monday Serengeti Boys lost 1-0 to Guinea (Conakry). Guinea is one of the only three African teams (the other is Tanzania and Uganda) in the tournament, and during the ten days training tour, Serengeti Boys are scheduled to play not less than 11 matches against their European counterparts.
The Serengeti Boys’ visit in Turkey is probably the most comprehensive to have been organized by the Tanzania Football Federation in the country’s soccer history, and for doing what they have done; the Federation deserves a pat on the back.
In fact, this is what they are supposed to do, and the fact that they are doing this for a football team which has been developed, in the game scientifically, through soccer academy, Serengeti Boys participation in the forthcoming AYC has all reasons to end up successfully.
And, talking about Serengeti Boys’ success in the forthcoming international soccer tournament does not necessarily mean lifting the coveted trophy. Success in the soccer tournament means twofold. One, getting to the stage, in the soccer tournament, that no national soccer team has ever reached in the history, namely, winning the trophy.
Secondly, if by the end of the soccer tournament, the bulk of Serengeti players are signed up being signed up by top-flight European clubs; then that would be massive achievement not only for the players, at individual level, but also for the Federation and the nation at large.
Indeed, we all know that the more our U-17 boys get the golden opportunity of plying their wares in top European soccer clubs, the more is our senior national soccer team, Taifa Stars stand to benefit through the boosting of its ranks with more skillful and experienced players.
As you read this piece, two players from the team are already in Sweden where they arrived a few months ago and they must have already linked up with their colleagues in Turkey.
The beauty of getting as many of Tanzania’s youthful, skillful and talented players in the European soccer theatre is that ultimately it is the same crop of players who would make Taifa Stars more competitive in Afcon and Fifa World Cup qualifiers.
What has failed Tanzania for many years when it came to qualification for Afcon and Fifa World Cup finals has been the absence of competitive players who could have taken and beaten the best both in Africa and outside the continent.
African countries which have won Afcon or went on to qualify for the Fifa World Cup finals like Ghana, Cameroon, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia and Senegal have done so not because they were more intelligent than Tanzanian players, but because they were well prepared since their childhood.
Most of the players from the foregoing countries entered their countries’ respective soccer academies when they were less than ten years and remained in their soccer academies until they reached 14 or 15 and that explains why they are referred to as being under the age of 17 which is shortened as U-17.
But knowing how tough the AYC tournament is, due to the kind of rigorous training the youth have gone through in their 15 years of training and under childhood, I would not burden the boys with the demand for the coveted trophy much as I would be very happy if they did that.
However, what I demand of them is to showcase their game to the world and prove what that German coach who is credited to have guided Egypt to where its today, Bukhard Pape said in 1970s, when he was coaching Uganda Cranes. Pape said that Tanzania was one of the four African countries which had the most talented soccer players in the continent.
However, he hastened to add that the only problem was that they were not being well prepared. Pape named the other three countries as Ghana, Cameroon and Senegal.
The German coach who would later come to Tanzania under Fifa coaching programme, had a glimpse of Tanzanian soccer players whenever Uganda Cranes played against their Tanzanian counterpart in the regional soccer tournament which was referred to as the Challenge Cup the precursor to the Gossage Cup.
One of the matches that influenced Pape to say Tanzania was one of the four countries which had the best talented soccer players in the continent was the Challenge Cup tournament held in Zanzibar in 1970.
During the first week, during which Tanzania national soccer team won the first game against Kenya, the team was without six players from Young Africans who had flown to Kumasi, Ghana to take on Asante Kotoko where they played a goalless draw.
But when the Cranes faced Tanzania, the six players from Young Africans had already joined their colleagues in the national soccer team. And as the two teams went for halftime, Tanzania led Uganda Cranes by one goal.
Uganda had during the time top flight players, the likes of Mubiru, Matee and one of the safest hands in the region during the time, Joseph Massajagge.
However, despite the presence of such high profile players, they had been reduced to novices by the likes of Gilbert Mahinya (a Tanzanian police officer) who was midfield dynamo, Maulid Dilunga, Awadh Gerson, Juma Bomba and so on and one of perhaps the best attacking midfielders in the country’s soccer history, Abdulrahman Juma.
Pape realised that his Cranes would get nowhere as long as Tanzania’s live-wire, Gilbert Mahinya, who was referred by his Young Africans’ fans ‘Machine’ was left intact. Therefore the task of getting Mahinya off the pitch was given to none other than Mahinya’s counterpart, Matee.
The latter would later land his boots squarely on Mahinya’s knee and that would not only bring Mahinya’s day to an end, but also his football career. Uganda Cranes would go on to win the match by 4-1.
The million dollar question is therefore would our boys live to Bukhard Pape’s claims about Tanzania being one of the four countries with the best soccer talent in Africa? Time will tell.