TAIFA Stars 1-2 defeat against Libya in a neutral ground in Tunisia a few days ago should not have happened had the players stuck to the performance they had put up in the first half.
The result is partly a clear reflection of what I have repeatedly said in these columns, namely, the absence of friendly matches which help, quite considerably, in noting the weaknesses of the team and individual players.
After scoring the first goal, it was clear the players thought they had contained the Libyans. And, that allowed their opponents to raise their game and level the score, before they finished the game off.
Nothing hurts some of us than losing matches against teams which come from politically unstable countries, which are perpetually locked in a state of war. If a team’s home fixture is sent to a neutral country, it means players of such a country cannot train peacefully even in their own country.
And, if a country which comes from a supposedly peaceful country loses a match against such a country, then we need to start asking ourselves many questions. Our defeat was also a result of our players allowing a grain of confidence to creep into their game and you don’t do that, especially when you are playing away from home.
Taifa Stars should have known that although the Libyans were playing in a neutral ground, on account of their country’s volatile political situation, but they were still playing, one, before their own Arab brethren and two, hundreds of thousands of Libyan fans had travelled from home.
The match was like Taifa Stars playing in Nairobi, Kenya against Libya. You don’t expect Kenyans the majority of Kenyans to root for Libya and I don’t need to elaborate that. That is what happened in Tunis, the Libyans were by proxy, playing before their own fans and Taifa Stars should have stepped up their game.
But instead of keeping the ball in their opponents’ half, they started passing the ball in their own half, and more stupidly, very close to their own goal, hence allowing the Libyans not only to come back, but to also secure three very important points.
A team with the experience of players like Mbwana Samatta and Simon Msuva who played very well on that night should not have allowed over confidence to creep up in the team. Of course, it’s utterly wrong to blame Samatta for the defeat.
This is because no matter how good the player is, he cannot perform alone without the assistance of other players. But I want Samatta to provide his fellow players with advice on how to handle such games and especially when they are playing away from home.
Both Samatta and Msuva need to guide their colleagues on how to deal with such games as most of the locally based players lack experience when it comes to playing such games. The problem is further compounded by a soccer federation that does not seem to believe on the importance of exposing a national soccer team to as many friendly matches as possible.
The Burundian coach is doing extremely well and the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF), need to keep him, but to help him, they need to provide him with good friendly matches against well, drilled teams from other parts of the continent.
It is time Taifa Stars started asking themselves hard questions, because if a country like Kenya which is not very different from Tanzania when it comes to the level of the game can hold the Egyptian national soccer team in their own backyard, why do they lose against minnow teams like Libya?
Taifa Stars’ performance in the second half in that match was an unacceptable, and I can personally understand those who went overboard to blame the debacle on Samatta. Surely, you don’t lose a match against a team which did not even qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations held in Egypt in June this year.
Taifa Stars would come to rue their loss against Libya when finally counting of points starts, later in the tournament.
If they can lose a match against Libya, how do they expect to win the return leg match against Equatorial Guinea which had led against them, and in their own backyard, until in the last minutes of the game before they turned tables on them?
Equatorial Guinea would be very tough at home and if Taifa Stars play the way they played against the Libyans in the second half, then they are likely to continue to cling on, on the three points they earned against Equatorial Guinea in Dar es Salaam!
Had they beaten the Libyans in Monastir, Tunisia on the night, they would have had six points in their kitty by now and that would have given them massive fillip going forward. The coach need to drill on his players on the importance of taking these Afcon qualification matches seriously.
For the way his players dangled with the ball in their own backyard reflected nothing but lack of seriousness. And, you don’t do that when you’re seeking crucial points for Afcon finals and what is more, you have only one goal and there is an entire 40 minutes to play before the end of the match.
If Taifa Stars players want Tanzanians to take them more seriously, they now need to ensure that they win all their away matches.
• Attilio Tagalile is a journalist/ author and media consultant based in Dar es Salaam and can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org