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Decisive moment for Stars in 2013 AFCON Qualifiers

Sunday’s game stands to be crucial to either side’s chances to progress to the next stage of the qualifiers, thus, the duo will hardly underrate each other on the pitch. The two teams drew 1-1 in the first leg duel played at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam on February 29, this year and that means victory by either of the two sides in Sunday’s match will determine their respective qualification for the third and final round of the qualifiers.

Stars, then coached by Danish Jan Poulsen, had fell back to a surprising early goal by the visitors, scored by striker, Clesio Bauque, before the former regrouped and equalized through a spectacular 25 metres drive by midfielder, Mwinyi Kazimoto, midway through the first half.

Sunday’s encounter, by and large, means so much to Stars considering that the team has not qualified for the AFCON finals for 32 years and will, thus, be keen to kill the jinx this time. Taifa Stars qualified for their first and only AFCON finals way back in 1980 and the team has, since then, been attempting to secure ticket to the finals but in vain.

This means there is plenty at stake for Taifa Stars on Sunday considering that victory over the hosts will keep alive the Tanzanian side’s hopes of progressing to the 2013 AFCON finals, to be hosted by South Africa. And as Stars’ head coach, another Danish tactician Kim Poulsen mentioned, an attacking game is all the team will have to settle for today so that it could emerge victorious and surge ahead.

Kim and his squad will enter Maputo’s Estadio Zimpeto in a buoyant mood after snatching a hard fought 2-1 win over Gambia in the second match of the group C of the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers played at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam last Sunday. The victory over the West Africans stands to have pumped a huge sense of self belief in Stars’ players, who are therefore expected to cover every blade of grass in pursuit of victory over the Mozambicans.

Netherlands-based African football analyst, Arjan van der Meijde, also believes Sunday’s match offers great prospects for Stars to excel in the continental event, thus, the team should fully exploit its opportunities on the pitch. In his assessment of Stars’ chances to perform well today, van der Meijde said the team will need to deploy nothing but good technical skills so that it could prevail.

“I see these (technical) skills having not been fully developed in this young Mozambique team,” he said in a recent interview with the ‘Sunday News.’ He said Mozambique plays with two lines of four players and then one striker plays deep upfront. The other striker could even be playing on the midfield as well. “It (Mozambique’s game approach) is more of a defensive approach…it is all about closing space and compressing the playing area on the midfield, with many players dictating play there,” he added.

He let curiosity get the better of him when it comes to commenting on which game approach could be deployed by Mozambique today, saying it was a bit difficult to predict whether the hosts could either be too much defensive or go for a home win.
The analyst, who has monitored Mozambique’s performance in a couple of recent international matches, told the ‘Sunday News’ that Stars’ striking force will need to have accurate timing in one on one situation, sprinting power, physical strengths, apart from being able to effectively deploy ball pressure.

“Many times in international football, a player has to find ways (to get the better of opposing team’s defence) by good tactical positioning and passing. Here, I think individual initiative can lead to big scoring chances”, he said. “For example, a quickly started Taifa Stars’ attack from the midfield could help the team slide past Mozambique’s four midfield players, who are on one line statically
most of the time, whereas passing (the ball) in a crowded (midfield) area is really dangerous (for Stars),” added Van der Meijde.

Van der Meijde feels that the ability to whip in crosses from the flanks, particularly from the right flank against (Mozambique) defender, Paito, is something Taifa Stars are able to do and that will provide opportunities for headers by Stars’ strikers. The analyst’ take on Mozambique’s goalkeeping reveals that the department has some weaknesses that Stars could fully exploit to score goals.

“Mozambique’s goalkeeping situation looks unstable. Nelson Pinto is the number one keeper but he is inexperienced,” said van der Meijde. “The well known Joao Kapango could be between the posts as well, but, age is now catching up on him. Free kick situation could help Stars test the keepers to their limit,” he added.

Much as Stars will opt for a more attacking game in search of victory, the team will need to keep an eye on Mozambique’s key players, as revealed by Van der Meijde in his other highlights on the Mambas’ strengths and weaknesses. “(Mambas) defender, Francisco Muchanga ‘Chico,’ is good in his skills and midfielder, Elias Pelembe Domingues, can set up good attacks,” he said.
He said Stars will have to deploy a good defensive approach to counter Mozambique’s attacking style, which is often based on long balls directed to the side’s strikers.

“Many times attackingly, the long balls towards (Mozambique)’s target man, Jerry Sitoe, will be played from the back,” he noted. Van der Meijde believes presently Stars have an edge over Mozambique performance wise and the former could make full use of their current rise in form to dispatch their Southern African opponents.

“Mozambique is a team in early learning phase. In my opinion, Taifa Stars are two steps ahead and may be even three steps ahead after the great win over Gambia…coach (Kim) Poulsen will hopefully have his team ready for a next successful attempt,” he said. Realizing progression to the third and final round of the 2013 AFCON Qualifiers stands to be the most important achievement for Stars, thus, the team’s players should play their hearts out in Sunday’s game to realize the target, as mentioned by the analyst.

“Qualification for the third round will be very valuable for Taifa Stars, may be even more important than the World Cup qualifying matches,” he said. “Reaching the finals of the African Nations Cup will be of great influence to the (Stars’) players’ development as well as to the country’s spirits,” he added. With domestic soccer fans having already waited for almost 32 years to see their beloved Stars secure a second appearance in the AFCON finals, victory over Mozambique is what the fans desire the most, given that it is the only way towards fulfilling their cherished dream.

Stars have had a winless spell in their latest two trips to Maputo to play Mozambique in both continental assignment and international friendly match and the Tanzanians will thus be hoping for a successful trip this time. Stars, then under Brazilian coach, Marcio Maximo, managed a barren draw with Mozambique in the 2008 AFCON Qualifiers’ duel played in Maputo in 2006 before the Tanzanians, led by coach Jan Poulsen, suffered a 2-0 defeat to the latter, when they met in an international friendly
match last year.

The fact that Stars will need to attack relentlessly in search of victory means Kim is bound to have prolific striker, Mbwana Samata, leading the team’s attacks and possibly find the back of the net. And a lot is expected from the gifted Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s TP Mazembe marksman, who has managed to win the trust of Kim after falling out of Jan’s favour during the latter’s reign at Taifa Stars.

Samata, who has already played three competitive matches for Stars against Cote d’ Ivoire, Gambia and an international friendly match against Malawi since his return to the squad, did not score in all three outings but his work rate in the final third of the pitch has so far been fantastic. It therefore remains to be seen whether Samata and the rest of the Stars’ squad will manage to fulfill the dream of the Tanzanian soccer lovers by powering to the third round of the 2013 AFCON Qualifiers.

THE first day I came into close proximity ...


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