THE days of reckoning for Serengeti Boys are finally on with nine days left before they take on reigning Africa Youth Champions, Mali, on the opening day of the tournament on 14th this month in Libreville, Gabon.
Serengeti Boys were roped into the tournament a few months ago after their appeal to the continental soccer governing body, CAF, against Congo Brazzaville, who had fielded an over-aged player in two matches played against them was successful. Until a week ago, the only team to fear for Serengeti Boys in their Group B was Angola.
However, after the return of Mali in the tournament, following the lifting of suspension on the North African team by Fifa, Serengeti Boys have now a massive battle in their hands. Mali’s soccer governing body was suspended by Fifa following the Mali government’s ‘interference’ in the country’s soccer affairs.
In the face of the world soccer governing body, Fifa, even if a government steps into a soccer body in order to stoop, say corruption, it’s deemed by Fifa to be nothing but interference! For Serengeti Boys to start well in this tournament, which is their first in Tanzania’s soccer history, they will need to win or at least draw in their first match. A defeat is not an option. Serengeti Boys have played seven build up matches against some of the teams, which will be taking part in the tournament.
What is both interesting and exciting about Serengeti Boys’ build up matches is that they did extremely well against the teams they played against, drawing and winning in their matches. Some of the high profile teams they played and did well against include the Egyptians whom they beat twice in Dar es Salaam and multiple participant and winner of the AYC tournament, Ghana.
Serengeti Boys had their residential camps in Morocco and Cameroon, countries renowned not only in Africa but also the world over for producing top class soccer players. Serengeti Boys chief coach, Bakari Shime, is very optimistic about his boys.
And has in fact, gone to the extent of saying they will surprise their first opponents in the tournaments, the Malians. But one hopes that Shime’s confidence is confined to the media and that it’s not, in any way, been made apparent to his boys for the simple reason that this could lead to catastrophic results.
Yes, if the coach shows his euphoria to his boys, that they are going to beat Mali, it could easily lead into the players becoming confident and their big headedness could easily translate into defeat in the first match against the AYC Cup holders.
It will be good for Serengeti Boys to start the tournament as underdogs much as the players would be expected to put all stops in the match against the Malians rather than getting on to the pitch with confidence only that confidence to be shattered through defeat.
Both Serengeti Boys and Shime need to know that this is not the first time the Malians are taking part in the tournament for otherwise they wouldn’t have won the AYC crown in the first place. For many decades, Mali have had a tradition of taking part, not only in the AYC tournaments, but also in its version of global tournament, the Youth World Cup.
To cut a long story short, Malian teams are built from the country’s former AYC and Youth World Cup teams and that is why they have been doing well continentally and globally.
In short, Malian soccer teams are highly experienced in continental and world soccer tournaments, hence the need for Serengeti Boys to work extremely hard against Mali in their first match against them.
If they win against Mali, they would have made a roaring start in the tournament. But even then, they should not let down their guard as the Angolans are reported to be equally good. Perhaps the advantage Serengeti Boys may have against Mali is that after being banned by Fifa, they may have not prepared themselves well for this tournament.
But we should not also forget that after winning the continental soccer tournament last season, most of Malian soccer players are very much likely to have been snapped up by soccer clubs at home and abroad where they have continued to play at a higher level than that of the AYC.
And playing at a higher level of the game than that of the AYC means gathering massive experience in the process. And what this means m they have now become better than they were last season when they carted away the AYC Crown.
And that’s what should make Serengeti Boys more cautious, that they are against a very tough opponent in the tournament. As I had occasion to note last time when Serengeti Boys were flying out of Tanzania for Morocco for their residential training, the players need to put their all throughout the tournament.
They need to do that because there is more to this particular tournament than winning the trophy. Of course, if they put up their all in the tournament, the possibility of winning the trophy is very high. But the other thing that will put paid for them is that they would be picked by international scouts who would be all out in Gabon scout for new talent for the global top flight soccer clubs.
All top flight premier league clubs in Europe and Latin America would be in full force in Gabon to get cheap, African soccer players. Simply put, Serengeti Boys are in global soccer market and they now need to showcase their talent for the world to see what stuff Tanzanians are made of when it comes to the beautiful game.
I wish them all the best.