THE national U-17 team, Serengeti Boys, earlier this year did the nation proud by getting ever closest to the World Championship when they narrowly missed semifinal place in Gabon.
Some months have passed since their ouster, but pains of losing the place in the World Cup seem to be endless. Serengeti Boys, the name that has never experienced defeat, will remain always a symbol of valor.
That brilliant performance both impressed and reassured their local fans. Serengeti Boys opponents and detractors must have been surprised as a result of that. By going so far in the continental level tournament Serengeti Boys shocked many, electrified their admirers and disappointed their detractors.
Still, their return from Gabon without the trophy may be disconcerting to many. However, that stoppage by Niger in their last group match, means little in comparison to the soccer giants like Mali they frustrated in nil-nil draw at the Stade de l’Amitie SinoGabonaise in Libreville to reach the quarter final position.
In a matter of comparison of standards, holding Mali in such limbo was tantamount walloping that West African soccer giant, for indeed Mali is just something else in the game.
But by moving so close to the title, yet falling so narrowly to the throne, Serengeti Boys sent a clear message that despite much investment made in their training, much more was still needed to whet their estimable quality and take them to the top.
It is good to remember that Mali has many professional footballers playing for European teams. That makes Mali’s squad, a composition of footballers with superior soccer standard, no push over to our players.
Beating them was therefore a commendable achievement for Serengeti Boys. Moreover, given the standard of Tanzanian football previously and how they could have performed at the tournament, it can be said Serengeti Boys did impressively to prevent Mali from wedging in more than a goal.
That indeed, was the same amount of dose of resistance Taifa Stars received from the Niger, experience they may rightly call an accident since Niger is not such a soccer threat.
Previous to their encounter with Gabon, Serengeti Boys had never come to as close to the title as they did this time–only two games away. But it may well be said that suddenly, their stars dimmed! We should remember where the Stars began their long journey as competitive football squad.
The fate of Serengeti Boys seems to throwback the Marcio Maximo era. It was during CHAN finals when Taifa Stars were almost to the semis, when Zambia equalised in the dying minutes.
Maximo, a Brazilian the government employed to train the national football team, would have made bigger progress with his Tanzania charg es – Taifa Stars, he implied-if he had trained them from their youth.
To get teachable and soccer-oriented youth, he suggested, the country should build soccer academies. Even without an academy which will act as an orchard of young football players who will then be promoted to the senior national teams.
And so far, the Stars have shown wonderful football feats and replicated that ire and skill they displayed in the last Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Gabon May this year. Good and well trained sports youths do not put their heart in the game because they were promised millions or a palatial house.
Winning the trophy itself is honorable enough and honor is all there is to it, in all competitions to begin with. Of course the honor comes with some material and financial reward, but not always.
Today’s Taifa Stars have not traveled since Maximo left them. All that remains lies with national sports authorities to ensure there is no standard relapse in their performance. Performance of Taifa Stars therefore is a grim reminder to soccer authorities in the county to strike the iron into the desired shape while it is still hot.
That hot state in sports is athletes’ early years of their youth. In sum, the nation’s considerable investment in sports is beginning to pay. More international exposure will redouble the reward.
The players’ mental state is all that crucial in international matches.