TANZANIA’S Serengeti Boys produced an industrious performance as they played out an entertaining barren draw against defending champions Mali in their U-17 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Group B game at Stade de l’Amitie Sino in Libreville, Gabon yesterday.
The draw earned Serengeti Boys a crucial point, and above all an urge to win the two remaining Group B matches against Angola and Niger.
The holders appeared to threaten the Boys with their athleticism especially in the opening half, but Bakari Shime’s youngsters were undeterred and found their rhythm in the second half to take a point from the debut outing in the continental youth finals.
Serengeti Boys coach Shime started with Yohana Mkomola as a lone striker with Nickson Kibabage dropped in midfield to try to combat the threat of Malian players.
The Boys matched their opponents in the opening exchanges and won two corners inside the first 13 minutes but could not capitalise on them.
Mali, winners of the competition in 2015, gradually imposed themselves into the encounter frequently launching their attacks from the left flank where Seme Camara proved handful to Serengeti Boys leftfull back.
They waged serious attack in the 17th minute but Boys defence stood firm with Kibabage producing a crucial tackle to avert the danger and he was lucky to avoid knock in his right leg.
Mali continued to boss the proceeding forcing Boys defence into making a couple of mistakes and nearly capitalised one of them in the 33rd minute, but goalkeeper Ramadhan Kabwili produced an excellent save to keep the clean.
The Eagles had a goal disallowed seconds later after being judged to have committed a foul prior to scoring. The two teams went for the breather tied in a goalless draw.
On resumption, Boys, with 45 minutes experience of Afcon youth finals on their back, put up a more solid performance, and displayed some beautiful football thanks to substitutions and change of tactics by the team’s technical bench.
Eagle-eyed custodian, Kabwili, who features for Azam second string, made another outstanding block using his left leg to deny Camara in the 63rd minute, conceding a futile corner.
The two teams battled for the remainder of the game, but none of them could grab the winner. Serengeti Boys’ second encounter will be against Angola on Thursday, May 18, before winding up their group stage campaign against West African side, Niger on May 21.
Angola and Niger, other teams in Group B, were locking horns in the late kick off at the same venue.
The biennial international youth football tournament organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for players aged 17 and below, will see the top four teams qualify for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.
Teams: Tanzania U-17: Ramadhani Kabwili, Ally Ng’anzi, Nickson Kibabage, Dickson Job, Asad Juma, Mohamed Rashid, Kibwana Shomari, Shabani Ada, Ally Msengi, Yohana Mkomola, Kelvin Naftal. Mali U-17: Youssouf Koita, Felix Kamate, Mamadi Fofana, Mohamed Camara, Seme Camara, Sibiry Keita, Abdoulaye Diaby, Mamadou Samake, Yeelen Olympique, Ibrahim Kane, Lassana N’diaye, Cheick Doucoure.