Tanzanian fans tinged as ‘minnows’ stun viewers in 2022 AFCON finals

18Jan 2022
By Guardian Reporter
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Tanzanian fans tinged as ‘minnows’ stun viewers in 2022 AFCON finals

​​​​​​​STATIC or durable ideas on who is who in African soccer is taking a hit as the African Cup of Nations finals continue, in Cameroon, with several countries hitherto unknown on the African soccer map – or at least unknown to local fans – entertain viewers with admirable displays.

Taifa Stars' players celebrate a goal netted by skipper, John Bocco, when the squad faced Malawi in an international friendly duel played in Dar es Salaam last year. PHOTO: CORRESPONDENT JUMANNE JUMA

It has not exactly been a year for ‘minnows’ but several countries are demonstrating how the old map of soccer is littered with holes.

We have retained that map to seek a push further up by assuming that other countries remain static.

That is precisely what is not happening, and slowly the fans are beginning to realize that it is Tanzania that is static and other countries are pushing their way up, though admittedly we also tried to attain such a mark by featuring in the 2019 finals with ex-Nigerian international, Emmanuel Amunike, at the helm.

All our efforts to come back to the top are anchored in this persistent picture that African soccer remains the same where a few countries are traditionally dominant, several others are in the middle, and scores are at the bottom.

We believe they will stay there but we have a chance to reach higher, just by shouting.

There is no time that the wish to make it higher in African soccer wasn’t being expressed, and way back in 1980 we indeed featured in the finals, going back there again after nearly 30 years.

There was a line drawn in the mind that we are now making it to the top, but looking at that impression somewhat closely, one finds that it was tied up with the view that most African countries will steadily remain in their places, and this way we scale up.

Picturing steady movement everywhere is a bit confusing here.

Expecting that the country can make it higher on the African soccer map just by shouting, or clever moves like organizing nationwide youth competitions to find talent for Taifa Stars has been the usual attitude. 

Tied to this mistaken view about talent and success is an inward-looking mentality both in the league or club format as well in national team football, which unavoidably corresponds with our other reflexes on society as a whole.

We feel comfortable and assured when we do things on our own, with few foreigners

The debate about how many foreign players the Premier League clubs can hire only died down in the past year, implying that it has intermittently continued for nearly two decades when cross-border hiring of players started becoming fashionable.

Not so long ago the responsible minister was saying a cap of three players from outside was the best, the reason is to ensure there is greater equality among Premier League sides, as higher caps advantage richer clubs.

But individual stakeholders prefer to put the issue differently, insisting that local players need a greater chance to play at first teams of the city rivals.

It has taken a while for such stakeholders to admit that the presence of many foreign professionals uplifts the local game as defenders in lower-ranking clubs are pushed to do better each time they meet with the more endowed clubs like Simba SC, Yanga, and even Azam FC, but there is a scatter of foreign players – and coaches – in other clubs as well.

This hierarchical structure of the Premier League still mentally troubles some stakeholders – and not just ‘minnows’  - but the fact of the clear advantage of perennial champions, Simba SC.

Stakeholders begin to hatch plots against it to cut it down to size, forcing game losses, draws.

This outlook is not different from the painstaking combat against foreign players that dominated TFF and ministerial sentiments earlier and only pushed to change when Simba SC registered successes that lifted the sentiments of most local fans.

So the issue was to imitate the local champions rather than fighting them, a view that rampaging rivals, Yanga, might start chewing after their humiliating exit from the 2022 Mapinduzi Cup run at the semi-final stage.

The target was not just the final but winning the cup.

Concerning the Africa Cup of Nations, local fans and officials faintly started dreaming of doing big things once Taifa Stars embark on the capping tournament, but soon reality dawned on the local soccer fraternity.

The side did not win a single game in the three they played but drew once, which was fairly logical given the level of play generally, implying that on the whole, they did their best, but the federation parted ways with Amunike evidently for failing to realize their targets for the finals.

If wishes were horses indeed, and seeing countries like Comoro, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, and others hold on their own against the big sides –with occasional steep losses – they wish we were there.

But it is time to take up their methods – stadium ownership by the private sector to enhance sponsorships, along with dual citizenship to get talents scattered around the world to play for Taifa Stars. But that is not a federation decision.