Most talk across Tanzania and perhaps in neighbouring countries as well must have revolved around Dar es Salaam Young Africans’ retention of the Kagame Cup crown – and understandably so, as it was surely no mean feat.
For a whole two weeks, the Kagame Cup (or Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations – CECAFA – championship) dominated sports headlines in most media houses in Tanzania in part because it was the country’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam that was hosting the regional tournament.
Young Africans, popularly known simply as Yanga, kicked off the tournament horribly but they soon woke up from slumber to recover and then grow from strength to strength as days went by until they cruised into Saturday’s nail-biting final.
For most soccer fans who were closely following the team’s progress, complete with shoddy preparations and a new coach join the club barely ten days ahead of the championship, what Yanga has achieved is a rare milestone.
The team endured trying moments, including a leadership crisis threatening to cripple efforts to regroup after the end of the Mainland premiership season in May, and came into the tournament widely viewed as rank outsiders.
The virtual underdogs they were, Yanga lost to Burundi’s Atletico Olympique by a clear two goals in their opening duel.
Whether thanks to intervention by the new management or the superb tactics of their Belgian coach, Tom Saintfiet, the team became a much-rejuvenated outfit at the beginning of the second group stage match.
The five-time Kagame Cup winners knocked out one team after the other all the way to the final. The eventual victory has doubtless served as a big boost to the development of soccer in the country, confirming that Mainland Tanzania will have two teams in next year’s edition of the championship.
It’s our hope that the victory will inspire more of our teams into emulating Yanga, what with the $30,000 prize package the winner ended up with this year.
But while we sincerely congratulate Yanga for work well done, it is important that we acknowledge the efforts made by losing finalists Azam as they too have made their mark on the championship by storming into the final despite being debutants.
Azam played stunning soccer to dispatch soccer regional heavyweights including six-time winners Simba in the quarterfinals.
Azam have featured in the Mainland premiership in at most four seasons but have registered enough improvement to become one of the teams to be reckoned with in the entire eastern and central Africa region.
In the circumstances, we strongly advise them to steer clear of complacency despite their exhilarating Mainland premiership and Kagame Cup displays.
History has examples of teams that registered relatively ‘sudden’ success similar to what Azam has attained but soon gradually crumbled.
Tanga’s Coastal Union won regional honours before disintegrating and failing qualify even for the Mainland premiership, but luckily bouncing back in recent years. The others include Zanzibar’s Mlandege FC and Moro United.
We only hope Azam will have learnt enough lessons from this sad history to take measures that will spare it a similar fate.
But again, well done, Dar es Salaam Young Africans for doing Tanzanians proud!