Tanzania’s Mbwana Samatta lights up European football league

11Mar 2017
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Tanzania’s Mbwana Samatta lights up European football league

TWO goals by Tanzanian footballer Mbwana Samatta helped his side Genk to a 5-2 win in their all-Belgian Europa League tie at Gent on Thursday night, with the striker making history by becoming the first Tanzanian to play and score goals in the lucrative European league.

Mbwana Samatta

Tanzania is not known for producing global football stars and the national side, Taifa Stars, is perennially stuck at the bottom of FIFA rankings, but soccer stakeholders say Samatta is now shining the light for other young Tanzanian lads to follow in his footsteps.

Experts said Samatta's exploits in the Europa League where he scored a brace, which also features some of the biggest football teams in world football, such as Manchester United (England), Inter Milan (Italy), Ajax (Netherlands) and Schalke (Germany), will give a big boost to the promotion of Tanzanian football players.

"Football scouts from around all the top teams in the world would have taken note of Samatta's outstanding performance where he scored two finely-taken goals ... he will likely be bought by a big European or Chinese team next season for mega bucks," Jumanne Shabani, a Dar es Salaam-based taxi driver said.

In the Europa League match, Samatta's Genk stunned their opponents, Gent, with an incredible 5-2 away win in an action-packed first leg of their all-Belgian last-16 clash to move within touching distance of the competition's quarter-finals.

The visitors ran roughshod in the first half to lead 4-1 by half-time at the Ghelamco Arena and withstood a second-half fight back in which Kalifa Coulibaly reduced the deficit and Jeremy Perbet missed a penalty.

Only one place and two points separate the teams in the Belgian First Division A and that initially showed as Ruslan Malinovskyi's fine opener for Genk was cancelled out by Samuel Kalu in a well-balanced opening 30 minutes.

But Genk took complete control of the tie as Omar Colley, Mbwana Samatta and Jere Uronen scored before half-time, with the quality of their set-pieces and speed on the attack proving too much for Gent.

The home side had overcome the odds to knock out highly fancied Tottenham in the previous round and even this considerable deficit seemed somewhat surmountable when Coulibaly pulled a goal back in the second half.

However, Mat Ryan's save from Perbet's spot-kick killed their momentum and Samatta's second after 72 minutes restored a three-goal lead for Genk heading into the return leg, while Gent's misery was compounded by Anderson Esiti's red card six minutes from time.

Gent should have led in the third minute, but Perbet somehow smashed the rebound against the crossbar inside the six-yard box after Ryan had saved Kenny Saief's low strike.

Ryan made another stop from Saief's 20-yard effort, but Genk quickly established a threat on the break and took the lead in spectacular fashion in the 21st minute when Malinovskyi curled a delightful free-kick in off Lovre Kalinic's left-hand post.

Gent levelled six minutes later when the lively Saief saw his teasing centre slice off the crossbar via Jakub Brabec and Kalu smashed the dropping ball into the net off Ryan from a tight angle.

Back came Genk and Jean-Paul Boetius shot straight at Kalinic, before Colley restored the lead by meeting Malinovskyi's corner - missed by the flapping the goalkeeper - with a firm header.

Malinovskyi's deliveries continued to cause problems and Samatta and Brabec missed further chances before Kalinic made a smart parry from Siebe Schrijvers' drive.

And Genk took firm control with two goals in the last four minutes of the half.

Samatta sprung the offside trap to control Boetius' pass and smash his shot beyond Kalinic, who was then beaten by Uronen as Pozuelo prompted another ruthless move.

Gent responded after half-time, though, with Saief again central to the attack as he crossed for Coulibaly to nod past Ryan.

It looked as though Genk's lead would be cut further when Malinovskyi tangled with Kalu to concede a penalty with just over half an hour remaining, but Ryan brilliantly denied Perbet from 12 yards.

Samatta instead ensured the visitors would return home with considerable breathing space as he turned Thomas Buffel's cross into the net for the fifth.

And things went from bad to worse for Gent as Anderson Esiti, booked in the build-up to the first goal, earned a second yellow for a trip on Schrijvers and will now miss what appears an impossible rescue mission in the return leg.

Reacting to Samatta's brilliant performance, Tanzania Football Federation’s (TFF) Secretary General Celestine Mwesigwa said the Tanzanian striker had been in excellent form since he left local football giant Simba Sports Club (SSC) in 2010.

“He left Simba for TP Mazembe of DR Congo some years back and became the first East African player to win a top continental individual award. His performance at TP Mazembe secured him a move to Europe and today he has become a football star in another continent," he said.

“We hope that he will make more progress ... and even help the Tanzania national football team to qualify for the African Cup of Nations and even the World Cup in the coming years.”

The head coach of Taifa Stars, Salum Mayanga said Samatta was an inspiration to many young football players in Tanzania.

“I am so happy for Samatta, and I have a lot of hope that he is going to do more good things,” he quipped.

On his part, the vice president of Simba SC, Geofrey Nyange, said Samatta's performance was down to talent, commitment and discipline.

“I am not surprised that he is doing very well in the top league competition of Europe because I know Samatta very well. I am the one who signed him for Simba in 2010 and also I am the one who sold and escorted him to TP Mazembe," he said.

“He is a player with good discipline, seriousness and a determined attitude. I have seen many players with good talent, but they lack a good character and have failed to progress," he said.

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