TUNISIA have already qualified for Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals.
They did that immediately after they bagged in one point from their 1-1draw against Taifa Stars in Dar es Salaam over ten days ago. Reason?
They bagged in more points (10), which cannot be attained by the other three teams in Group J. But there is still one more place in the group for grabs for the Afcon finals. Apart from Tunisia which is 26th in the first 50 countries in the Fifa rankings, other teams in Group J are Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea and Libya.
Taifa Stars have two matches in hand one against Libya in Dar es Salaam on March 30th next year and another against Equatorial Guinea away from home on March 22nd next year. If they win all their remaining two matches they will bag in a total of ten points and they are likely to qualify for the remaining spot for the Afcon finals. Taifa Stars have four points to date.
They bagged the first three after beating Equatorial Guinea in Dar es Salaam before the onset of the deadly corona virus and got one point from their one all draw against Tunisia. I strongly believe that had the Burundian coach, Etienne Ndayijagire been around before the start of Taifa Stars’ Afcon qualifiers, I’m quite sure he would have steered the team to qualification.
I’m saying that because Taifa Stars would not have lost a match against Libya away from home. Of course, Libya is good, but very much beatable. To date Taifa Stars is the only team that lost to Tunisia by a lone goal. Libya were walloped by 4-1 by the Tunisians in Tunis.
My only fear is that Libya could spring surprise in the group and grab the remaining spot through the assistance of Tunisia. Let’s not forget these are neighbours and Arabs. Blood is always thicker than water. I’m however, putting my money on Taifa Stars because they have two matches against teams whose soccer standard is not very much different from what Taifa Stars have.
But they would have to work extremely hard against Equatorial Guinea away from home. Equatorial Guinea went down by a lone goal against Tunisia. But they beat Libya at home and away from home! That is why they are now second in the group. What does this mean?
Taifa Stars will have to work extremely hard against Equatorial Guinea away from home. And, nothing will get them to the Afcon finals until and unless they beat Equatorial Guinea who have already bagged in six points, two more than Taifa Stars who are third in Group J.
In their home match against Libya in March next year, Taifa Stars will certainly have to win against Libya if they are serious about travelling to Cameroon. But Taifa Stars’ most difficult match would be against Equatorial Guinea on March 22nd and away from home.
It is going to be their most difficult match because this is a team that does not lose easily at home. Again, let us not forget. This is the team that beat Libya and went down by a lone goal against Tunisia.
But if we managed to tame Tunisia at home something that Equatorial Guinea could not succeed, there is no reason why we should not beat them in their own backyard as they had themselves done to the Libyans away from home.
Taifa Stars’ game changer would however, only be realised if they beat Equatorial Guinea in their own backyard. And if they did that, it would be easy to bag in the other three points from the Libyans when they play them in Dar es Salaam.
Therefore, victory against Equatorial Guinea away from home should provide an opportunity to Taifa Stars to round off the Libyans in Dar es Salaam in their last match at the end of March. But it is not going to be easy and both Etienne and the players would have to work extremely hard in the three remaining matches from December to February next year.
Working hard means TFF providing quality friendly matches to Taifa Stars during the intervening period in order to keep the players in tip top form. Short of that they should not expect to get anywhere it’s as simple as that. Clubs could also help Etienne a lot if they train hard their players some of whom are members of Taifa Stars.
And Etienne should also try to look beyond the three big clubs of Simba, Young Africans and Azam for players who are doing well in the on-going Vodacom premier league. For instance, after the Taifa Stars, Tunisia matches, I expect Etienne to work closely with coaches from clubs where Etienne had picked players for the national soccer team.
I expect the Burundian coach tell his counterparts the weaknesses of the players and how they could improve and get over their weaknesses. Such exchanges of notes will go a long way towards improving the performance of the players and finally bring dividends to teams, Taifa Stars and clubs players are coming from.