Mirambo confident of Serengeti Boys’ success in AFCON U-17 tourney   

13Apr 2019
Joseph Mchekadona
The Guardian
Mirambo confident of Serengeti Boys’ success in AFCON U-17 tourney   

TANZANIA’s U-17 football team, Serengeti Boys, have disclosed they are well prepared for the 2019 AFCON U-17 championship, which will kick off in Dar es Salaam tomorrow.

Tanzania’s U-17 football squad, Serengeti Boys.

The squad’s head coach, Oscar Mirambo, was adamant his charges are ready for the tournament.

He said his players have prepared intensively and he is confident they will perform well at the championship.

The country earned automatic qualification for the showpiece as they are the tournament’s hosts.

"We are ready for the tournament, I am sure we will do well as my players are in high spirits... we have prepared well for it," he said.  

Serengeti Boys are in Group A of the eight-team tournament that also has Angola, Nigeria and Uganda.

Group B comprises Cameroon, Guinea, Morocco and Senegal.

The home side will kick off the tournament with a game against five-time FIFA U-17 World Cup winners, Nigeria, at the National Stadium in the city.

Angola will play against Uganda later the same day while other games will continue on Monday.

This is the second time that Tanzania is competing at the AFCON U-17 finals. The country made its maiden appearance in the championship in Gabon in 2017.

Serengeti Boys intensified preparations for the championship as they competed in an Invitational Competition in Kigali, Rwanda two weeks back. Cameroon and Rwanda also took part in the competition.

The Tanzania youngsters emerged as champions of the event, as they collected four points out of three duels.

They posted a 2-1 win over Cameroon in the first match and the former then drew 3-3 with Rwanda.

The Dar es Salaam tournament’s semi-finalists will qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which will be held in Brazil later this year.

The secretary for the AFCON U-17 championship’s organization committee, Leslie Liunda, informed the media that all is set for the finals, which is held in the country for the first time.

He said they expect a very good tournament and patronage from people in the country.

"All is set for the AFCON U-17 championship, the preparations have reached a very good stage and we are very happy with the support we got from the government and other stakeholders,” he said.

In another development, the world maybe Nigeria’s oyster with five record titles under their belt as far as the FIFA U-17 World Cup is concerned. However, the West Africans are yet to produce their near total dominance at the continental level.

The 13th edition of the AFCON U-17 finals will be Nigeria’s ninth appearance since the birth of the cadet continental championship in 1995 but they are only searching for their third continental title.

Golden Eaglets, as the Nigerian lads are fondly called, have two titles (2001 & 2007) just as archrivals Ghana and Gambia.

Nigeria have been runners up twice with the last being at the 2013 finals held in Morocco when the current coach, Manu Garba, blooded the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho of Leicester City and Isaac Success of Watford, amongst others.

Garba has forever been part of the Nigeria U-17 set up since the early 2000s and was an assistant to the late coach Yemi Tella when the Golden Eaglets did the double by winning their second title in Togo en route to global acclaim in South Korea in 2007.

“Every tournament is hard to win,” the 55-year-old Garba who guided Nigeria yet to World Cup glory in 2013 told CAFOnline.com.

“No matter how good a team is, sometimes you need elements of luck to win the trophy.”

By and by, the Eaglets have in the past failed five times to qualify for the U-17 AFCON and were eliminated three times at the group stages in their previous eight appearances.

But Garba’s right-hand, Nduka Ugbade, who incidentally captained the Eaglets to win the maiden FIFA U-16 World Cup in 1985, is upbeat about the potentialities of the current lads, adding that Nigeria remains the team to beat in Tanzania.

“The truth is that the U-17 AFCON is very competitive because of the amount of effort that is concentrated upon it by most countries,” Ugbade who was also an assistant to Garba when Nigeria won the U-20 AFCON four years ago in Senegal, told CAFOnline.com.

“Teams from Africa can compete favourably well at the FIFA World Cup because the intensity of the game at this level on the continent is very high and that is why the Nigerian team over the years is difficult to beat, due to strength, skills and mental speed.”

Speaking further, Ugbade was of the opinion that CAF has raised the bar for the U-17 AFCON with recently introduced regional tournaments to determine eventual qualifiers for the biennial continental competition.

“I think the U-17 AFCON has taken a new dimension because you must have competed at the highest level to earn the zonal ticket and it makes the competition tougher,” he explained.

“How I wish CAF can allow two teams from each zone to qualify for the main championship in future because some of the traditional teams like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and even South Africa would not be in Tanzania.”

The Eaglets were lucky to make the trip to Tanzania since Ghana nearly upstaged their applecart in the regional WAFU Zone B final match in Niger last September where they triumphed 3-1 on penalties after they both tied 1-1 in regulation time.