The Tanzania Football Federation has every reason to ensure the national soccer team, Taifa Stars, is all ready for their crunch match against visiting Super Eagles of Nigeria on the second day of the 2017 African Nations Cup qualifiers to be played at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam early next month.
Reports say the federation has shown serious intention to shape the team up for the encounter by going to the extent of pushing back the kick-off of the Mainland Premier Soccer League.
Taifa Stars kicked off the qualifying series with a June loss to The Pharaohs of Egypt, who have emerged champions seven times. Since the qualifier group is pretty tough, it is incumbent upon each team to collect maximum points in every match.
Stars are scheduled to play six matches, half of them at home and the upcoming one against Nigeria being the second in the series. Home ground victory often proves crucial in qualifiers and this explains the importance of the upcoming duel with Nigeria.
Like the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the Taifa Stars have a new coach, Boniface Mkwassa, after the TFF parted ways with former Coach, Mart Nooij, though on a temporary basis.
Mkwassa and his team are currently in Turkey preparing earnestly for the make or mar tie against the three-time African champions, Nigeria, but have been hit by major disappointments with the cancellation of friendly games against Oman and another unnamed side.
Despite losing the Nation’s Cup qualifying opener in Alexandria last June, the Taifa Stars are still on track and can go past the preliminaries. With the Mainland premiership kick-off pushed back to next month and the CECAFA championship over, it is ample time for Taifa Stars to make full use of their time in training.
Just last week, in order to indicate its seriousness and make ready the players that will prosecute the encounter at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam, Mkwassa named five foreign-based players in his 29-man squad, to prepare for the forthcoming African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier against continental giants, Nigeria on September 5 this year.
Hassan Sembi from South Africa’s Santos FC and Adi Yussuf from Mansfield Town of England were named for the first time and will join Mrisho Ngasa from Free State of South Africa and TP Mazembe duo of Mbwana Samatta and Thomas Ulimwengu in the squad.
Youthful Orgenes Mollel from Aspire Africa’s camp in Senegal and Azam’s new boy, Farid Musa have also been included in the team that face a must-win situation against Nigeria to revamp their hopes of making it to the 2017 AFCON finals.
Taifa Stars lost their first group match 3-0 to ‘Pharaohs’ of Egypt, forcing the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF) to overhaul the team’s technical bench, whereby Dutch trainer, Mart Nooij was replaced with Mkwasa.
Mkwasa said that the team will move into camp in Dar es Salaam on Sunday, where they will stay together for one week before departing for Istanbul, Turkey on August 23 this year, to set up a ten-day camp to prepare for their second match of the qualifiers.
He named players who will move into camp on Sunday as goalkeeper, Ally Mustafa (Yanga) and Aishi Manula (Azam). Defenders are Shomari Kapombe (Azam), Michael Aidan (Ruvu Shooting), Juma Abdul, Mwinyi Haji, Nadir Haroub and Kelvin Yondani (Yanga), Abdi Banda and Hassan Isihaka from Simba.
Midfielders are Himid Mao, Frank Domayo, Mudathir Yahya (Azam), Salum Telela (Yanga) and Said Ndemla from Simba.
Forwards are Orgenes Mollel (Aspire – Senegal), Abdrahman Mbambi (Mafunzo), Deus Kaseke, Saimon Msuva (Yanga), Ramadhani Singano, Farid Musa, John Bocco, Ame Ally (Azam) and Rashid Mandawa from Mwadui FC.
Mkwasa said the five foreign-based players will join the rest in the Turkey camp to prepare for the crucial match.
Meanwhile, Nigerians have expressed their worry over Taifa Stars striker, Thomas Ulimwengu ahead of their qualifier clash next month.
If there is one Tanzanian many Nigerian football fans know, it is Ulimwengu. Not because Ulimwengu, along with Mbwana Samatta, are arguably the most high profile players on the Taifa Stars team with both playing for TP Mazembe, but because Ulimwengu has actually beaten them before.
The Nigerians still remember June 2011 when the national Under-23 side hosted Nigeria in an Olympic qualifier. Nigeria is no pushover in this category, being the first nation to win Gold for the continent in Atlanta in 1996, as well as placing second on other occasions.
The 2011 team, living true to tradition, was just as potent as any other but Ulimwengu was unimpressed and sent them packing with a monster strike with just five minutes to go in a hard as nails match.
In as much as Nigeria would steamroll the Tanzanians in the return leg and expel them, many till today remember Ulimwengu’s bombshell against them. Such was its quality.
Hopefully for the Eagles, one such a Nigerian remembering how dangerous this Striker can be, will be new coach Sunday Oliseh who now will have to find a solution, not just to coral Samatta, but Ulimwengu as well.
Regardless of who Oliseh picks, they will need to bring their “A” game to match Ulimwengu because the man is gifted with an impeccable overall vision of the field which he recently put on display against the Atlas Lions by scoring and creating assists for Samatta and beating Morocco 3–1 in 2014 in Dar es Salaam.
On the part of the Nigeria Football Federation, plans to have a chartered flight to lift the team and officials straight to Dar es Salaam a day before the game has been concluded. One thing is certain: The match is going to be explosive!