As usual, Tanzania is fielding two ‘national’ teams in the Cecafa (Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations) soccer Challenge Cup.
This year’s edition of the regional tournament kicked off in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Saturday with the United Republic of Tanzania represented by Mainland and Isles sides Kilimanjaro Stars and Zanzibar Heroes, respectively.
We wish both teams the best of luck in the 12-team championship fully aware that glory has for years eluded us.
Since the tournament was revived in 1973 in Kampala to replace Gossage Cup, Mainland Tanzania has won win the title only three times – in 1974, in 1994 and in 2010 – and the Isles only in 1995. Kenya has snatched the title five times, while hosts Uganda are looking for a record 13th title.
Skilful play and quality refereeing, and not largely irrelevant considerations such as home ground advantage, have always stood as the major factors behind success.
Unlike during previous years, soccer is not played in conditions of considerable transparency though we are yet to witness the complete absence of controversial decisions by officials.
In the circumstances, we urge our two teams featuring in the championship to play dignified soccer with the Cup in mind regardless of the perceived disadvantage of playing on foreign soil and away from their home fans.
Hard work pays and should they genuinely seek to clinch the title, the sky should be the limit. After all, sometimes teams are subjected to tensions and pressures when playing before home fans.
It is too late in the day for pretexts such as poor preparations and lack of basic gear to be accepted as “reasons” for poor displays by our representatives in regional or international competitions. And this chiefly all championship and major friendly matches are these days staged in line with definite calendars.
It’s therefore high time our teams delivered, which is well within their reach if they count themselves as competitors and not mere participants.
Understandably, for most Tanzanian fans, it will matter little whether it will be Kilimanjaro Stars or Zanzibar Heroes that will bring the nation the glory so eagerly awaited.
The Challenge Cup has eluded Tanzanians for an unacceptably many years running, and it will be substantial relieve should our teams turn the tables and do us proud this time around.
Yes, Tanzania has been doing poorly in international soccer, with the African Nations or World Cup qualifiers all but hollow dreams. But harder and better play can still ensure us some relief.
Tanzanian fans will be following the action in Kampala with a rich blend of zeal and hope, the best reward they are praying for being the Cup. Despite playing away from home, our teams can rest assured that they have our full support.
Winning, losing and drawing are surely all part of the game, but there is always comfort in seeing a team fighting as hard and skilfully as humanly possible to the very last and only lose the final lap to a truly better one.
Let that be what will happen in Kampala, as we eagerly await eventual victory in the form of the Cup.