Being nationalistic in sport has two aspects, one is being happy about what a country has achieved, and another is envy and reinforcing the belief that the country that one belongs to can do the same as well.
This aspect is part of the general rearrangement of feelings in each country on the basis of the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), which changes the balance every time that the finals are held, and thus it was Burkina Faso that was the revelation in this year’s finals.
Nearly all soccer pundits in Dar es Salaam will say we were just as good or some could say better when we met in previous preliminary stages of the same tournament, under the stewardship of Marcio Maximo, but ‘somehow’ we just failed to qualify…
Nearly the same sentiments could be garnered when Zambia not just reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations much earlier but also won the tournament, and now Burkina Faso.
The difference is that while Burkinabe glory is something new on the continent, Zambia is an old hand in glittering soccer, so despite the usual feeling that they are our equals in things like the CECAFA nations tournament, where is an easy feeling of ‘understanding’ when they clinch a continental cup.
It is a bit different with the Congo, as days when they were a great soccer nation in the mid 1960s are faded, few pundits would recall that.
So far it can be said that most African nations have had a go at the top level, or say close to half have been hits in the game at one point or another, and a third of the rest closed in at some points, with either qualification or reaching quarters or semis. Tanzania is one of those at the bottom of the middle ranking, neither reaching heights in any competition nor often qualifying, but having at least done so in 1980, and sort of made some headlines in ‘home based players’ version, which isn’t inspiring.
The idea of relying on home-based tourney to get a significant show just underlines the structural weaknesses.
Not even in the East African zone has Tanzania shown credible ability at the game in the national team level, though it is arguably much more sophisticated at club level, the way it is often the case in European soccer.
Countries which attract the best players at the club level aren’t always the best in national teams, and only recently has Spain added the nations’ crown to its established dominance at the level of clubs, and Britain has leading clubs but a shadow of its past glory at national team level,. In that case weaknesses at national team level tend to be structural, not simply a matter of training, coach.
Yet the fact that other countries have tended to achieve up to a point, even comparable soccer entities like Burkina Faso, teaching a few lessons to giants in the area though stumbling at a highly motivated Nigerian side, suggests we can do something as well.
But given the paucity of our players being noticed at the professional level, beyond some academy and minor league engagement, it is hard to see what indicators suggest we could make it in any near future finals.
The pangs of dismay at the sort of glory that Burkinabe fans are basking right now might be a challenge, but it is envy, not pursuit of solutions.