Letter from Butiama: Taifa Stars is down, but far from out

I am probably one of a few among Tanzanians who were relieved that Taifa Stars did not succeed in its attempts to book a place in the soccer World Cup to be held in South Africa in 2010.

Taifa Stars was simply not ready. There is no dispute that Taifa Stars has registered impressive gains since Brazilian coach Marcio Maximo took over responsibility for training the team.

However, it now seems that the current players have reached their peak and I suspect that is the reason Maximo has said he will remain for only another year. Tanzanians had high hopes when Taifa Stars stood on top of group seven of the African Cups of Nations in December 2006 after a win against Burkina Faso.

The players have gradually progressed to develop the necessary skills to play at the world stage. However, playing at that level requires more than skill. It also requires a winning track record built on regular encounters with top-rated national sides, both in tournament and friendly matches. Recent experience reveals that when Stars’ meet stronger competition, the weaknesses emerged.

My disillusionment with Taifa Stars emerged when Taifa Stars played Senegal in Mwanza in June 2006 and drew 1-1. My position was Taifa Stars needed all the encouragement from all Tanzanians and one Brazilian, Marcio Maximo. And my position hasn’t changed, but there are limits to love for team and country.

Before the Mwanza match, the national team lost 0-4 in a first leg against Senegal at the first round match at the Leopold Sedar Senghor Stadium in Dakar. In December 2006, when Stars were leading group seven of the African Nations Cup, I hinted that watching Taifa Stars play in the opening rounds of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010 was becoming a possibility.

After the loss in Dakar and the draw in Mwanza, I descended down from the clouds. Under those circumstances, it takes a great deal of optimism to even dream of Taifa Stars playing Brazil or another top-rated team in South Africa in 2010. At the back of the minds of many Tanzanians ahead of the recent second leg encounter against Cameroon that saw Stars losing 1-2 in Yaounde, was the away match 0-4 loss that Taifa stars suffered at the hands of Senegal in March 2007.

Pessimists were worried that Cameroon, playing at home, would repeat the same humiliation suffered at the hands of Senegal in Dakar last year. Forcing a draw against a superior team at home is poor security against a thrashing during an away match. It is either Taifa Stars has improved, succeeding to lose by a lower margin 1-2 to a stronger opponent playing at home or Cameroon is not the once giant of African soccer that it used to be.

However, even if Cameroon is not what it once was, there is no question that our national team is increasingly becoming a formidable opponent in Africa soccer. And yet Tanzania still has a long way to go before we reach the world stage. Talent is one component in a winning team and recent trends indicate there is no shortage of talent. The recently-ended Coca Cola Cup and Taifa Cup have showcased considerable talent from around the country.

The Tanzanian Soccer academy programme also holds considerable potential. Other important contributions to national soccer development include regional capacity building in trainers, and sports administration. One of the leading impediments to the development of sports in Tanzania has been the persistent crises of leadership in our sports clubs.

Only a few days ago, soccer commentators on a local television programme claimed sports leadership has been invaded by some individuals whose interests also include politics, business and outright publicity. It is difficult to argue against that point. The other important component is an experienced team of trainers.

Marcio Maximo’s contract has been renewed for another one year term, but it should be expected that another experienced coach will take over from where Maximo leaves to develop the future potential of Tanzanian soccer in collaboration with Tanzanians. With the visible upcoming talent, the soccer development programmes of the Tanzania Football Federation, the important contribution of corporate sponsors and the backing of millions of Tanzanians, Taifa Stars has a good chance of playing at the 2014 World Cup. The big names in African soccer should get used to becoming ordinary names. We are down, but far from out

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