Tanzania's Drought-Breaking Journey of Historic Proportions

Updated on October 8, 2019
Antonio Martinez1 profile image

Antonio Martinez graduated from Montclair State University with a BA in History and a double minor in Russian Area Studies and Journalism.

Tanzanian players and fans celebrate inside the National Main Stadium in Dar Es Salaam on Mar. 24, 2019. Tanzania defeated Uganda 3-0 to clinch only its second Africa Cup of Nations berth, but first since 1980.
Tanzanian players and fans celebrate inside the National Main Stadium in Dar Es Salaam on Mar. 24, 2019. Tanzania defeated Uganda 3-0 to clinch only its second Africa Cup of Nations berth, but first since 1980. | Source

So much can change for a nation in 39 years, especially in football. Back in 1980, Tanzania made its debut at the Africa Cup of Nations. With domestic stars like Juma Mkambi, Tanzania was East Africa's lone representative in an eight-team tournament as it would finish with one point from three games.

Known as the Taifa Stars, Tanzania remained in the wilderness of Africa's premier event for nearly four decades. During that period, the national team struggled at time against the continent's elite nations while it at one point even withdrew from qualifying. For quite a while, that second chance to reach the Africa Cup of Nations elude Tanzania, especially during qualifying for the 2019 edition.

However, Tanzania not only benefited from a major announcement in 2017 but with a wide-open group in qualifying, Tanzania got the results when it mattered, particularly on the final day of qualifying. In winning its final match against Uganda along with a crucial result from the other side of Africa, Tanzania ended a 39-year drought and qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Their road to Egypt had been fraught with peril and close calls.

Early Years for a Founding Member

A founding member of the sub-confederation Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) in 1973, Tanzania first began attempting to qualify for a major tournament during the 1968 Africa Cup of Nations. Matches back then were decided over two legs and often Tanzania lost convincingly. It was not until attempting to reach the 1974 Africa Cup of Nations where Tanzania had its first shot at a major tournament. Only a penalty shootout against Mauritius denied Tanzania a berth at the then eight-team tournament. However, things changed toward the late 1970s and early 1980s.

On Aug. 26, 1979, Tanzania got a vital goal from Peter Tino that secured Tanzania's first Africa Cup of Nations.Tanzania's reward would be a daunting debut on Mar. 8, 1980: the opening match of the Africa Cup of Nations at the National Stadium in Lagos. The late Juma Mkambi scored Tanzania's first-ever goal to bring the game at 2-1 nine minutes into the second half. However, Tanzania exited the tournament after only three games with a draw.

Later that year, Tanzania would play again at this same stadium. On Dec. 6, 1980, Mohamed Salim canceled out Mudashiru Lawal's 29th-minute goal to give Tanzania a value draw, only for Tanzania to lose two weeks later at home 2-0. Tanzania's matches with Nigeria happened due to Tanzania overturning a 3-1 first-leg loss to Kenya by winning its first World Cup qualifier.

It would be nearly three decades before Tanzania won another World Cup qualifier.

Flashback to 1980

Sinking into the Abyss

During the 1990s, Tanzania endured mixed results on the international scene. Kelvin Haule's lone goal in a 1992 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Zaire helped Tanzania secure what would be its lone victory in qualifying. On Sept. 3, 1994, Tanzania kicked off 1996 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying with three goals in the opening 13 minutes at home against Uganda. Edibilly Lunyamila added a second goal late in the game as Tanzania won 4-0. Tanzania went on to win four of its five qualifiers at home, including a 2-1 victory over Algeria.

However, Tanzania lost all five road qualifiers during that campaign. Following its opening victory over Uganda in which it was leading its group after the first round, Tanzania crashed to a 5-1 loss in Cairo, despite trailing 1-0 at halftime. Even heading into its final qualifier had Tanzania had an outside chance at reaching the tournament. Mohammed Hussein did put Tanzania ahead after 21 minutes in Algiers's Stade du 5 Juillet 1962. However, the lead lasted only eight minutes, when an own goal tied the match. Rezki Amrouche scored the winning goal to sent Algeria to the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations.

Things would fare no better for Tanzania afterward in the late 1990s and early 2000s. During its next four qualification campaigns for the Africa Cup of Nations, Tanzania managed to win only one of its 16 qualifiers. Idelphonce Amlima scored the lone goal in Tanzania's victory against Togo on June 22, 1997, in a match not played in its national stadium, but rather Sheikh Amri Abeid Memorial Stadium, in Arusha.

Tanzania not only struggled on the international scene but at times were even outclassed. That included an 8-0 drubbing it suffered against Saudi Arabia on Sept. 11, 1998, in what remains Tanzania's worst loss since independence. Games sometimes were even hard to come by as in 1999, Tanzania played only three matches. Five years later, Tanzania's only games came in the CECAFA Cup, where Rwanda knocked out Tanzania in the quarterfinals.

Ten months after that result, Tanzania was at its worst ranking to date.

Rebuilding, Optimism and an Opportunity

Following its loss to Kenya during qualifying for the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, Tanzania waited nearly three years before another continental qualifier. Before then, Tanzania hired Marcio Maximo as its manager. Having groomed stars like Ronaldo and Ronaldinho while coaching at Brazil's youth level, Maximo had not managed a team since a nine-game stint with Scottish club Livingston.

After winning its first two matches under Maximo, Tanzania pulled off one its most notable victories on Sept. 2, 2006. Tanzania commenced its qualification phase for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. The 2-1 victory over Burkina Faso was Tanzania's first qualifying victory at its national stadium since defeating Ethiopia 2-0 on July 15, 1995. A scoreless draw in Maputo against Mozambique had Tanzania top of its group after two games, heading into a critical road test in Dakar, Senegal. However, Mamadou Niang scored a hat-trick as Senegal cruised to a 4-0 victory. Though it recorded another victory against Burkina Faso in its penultimate qualifier in Ouagadougou, Tanzania was unable to qualify for the tournament after losing at home against Mozambique 1-0.

Tanzania struggled throughout qualifying for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations (doubled with qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup). After only four games, Tanzania had two points, with the 2-1 loss in Yaounde, Cameroon consigning Tanzania to another elimination. However, despite this, Tanzania did finish winning its final two games, with latter being a 3-1 victory at home to the Cape Verde Islands. Goals knocked the Sharks out of contention as well.

An opportunity for a prestigious tournament would come. On Sept. 11, 2007, the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) established a new national tournament that would utilize only players in its domestic league: the Africa Nations Championship.
Spots in this tournament came down to regional qualification matches, with included Africa's Central East Zone having seven nations, but only one spot. In the end, Tanzania survived three rounds of qualifying, culminating with a 5-2 aggregate victory over Sudan to qualify for the 2009 Africa Nations Championship, held in Côte d'Ivoire.

In the tournament, Tanzania missed out on a semifinal berth in painful circumstances. After losing its opening match, 1-0 to Senegal on Feb. 22, 2009, Tanzania responded with Mrisho Ngasa, a star player for Young African SC (based in the Kariakoo Ward of Dar Es Salaam) scoring in the second match. His goal against Côte d'Ivoire meant Tanzania had to something to play for in its final match against Zambia. There, the match remained scoreless until Shadrack Msaigwa scored on a penalty kick two minutes before injury time. With the other game being scoreless, Tanzania was in a position to win its group and reach the semifinals. However, Dennis Banda scored in the fourth minute of injury time.

Tanzania went from group winners to eliminated in minutes.

Action from a World Cup/Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier

There is great potential and I believe we can make big changes. It is a real chance now to try and improve things in Tanzania not only on the pitch but off it too. There is a lot of work to do on trying to be more professional.

— Marco Maximo, former Tanzania manager in an interview with FIFA on Feb. 5, 2007.
Tanzania's Stafan (#21) battles with Brazil's Kaka (#10) during a friendly match at the National Stadium in Dar Es Salaam on June 7, 2010. The 5-1 Brazil victory proved to be the final match for Marco Maximo as Tanzania's manager.
Tanzania's Stafan (#21) battles with Brazil's Kaka (#10) during a friendly match at the National Stadium in Dar Es Salaam on June 7, 2010. The 5-1 Brazil victory proved to be the final match for Marco Maximo as Tanzania's manager. | Source

Danish Influence of a Revival

Two months after losing to Brazil 5-1 right before the 2010 World Cup, Tanzania had hired an experienced manager to replace Maximo. Assistant under Richard Møller Nielsen when Denmark won Euro 1992, Jan Børge Poulsen was Tanzania's first European manager in almost a decade. Poulsen, have also coached in Singapore and more recently in Armenia, would help Tanzania made history late in 2010 on home soil.

Though it lost its opening game to Zambia, Tanzania rallied to reach the CECAFA Cup Final for the first time in eight years. The player who helped Tanzania win its first game in the African Nations Championship also scored goals when it mattered. Nsajigwa scored on a penalty kick to knock out Senegal in the quarterfinals. Then after Tanzania reach the final courtesy of a penalty shootout victory against Uganda, Nsajigwa scored four minutes before halftime against Côte d'Ivoire. It would be the lone goal as Tanzania secured its first CECAFA Cup since 1994.

Tanzania hoped to gain momentum during qualifying for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. Thought it played to two 1-1 draws (including its opening qualifier in Algiers), Tanzania only managed to win one game out of the six qualifiers - a 2-1 victory against the Central African Republic courtesy of a 90th-minute goal from Mbawma Samatta. Following the qualification phase, Tanzania had another two-legged series to reach the second round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

Nurdin Bakari scored his first goal since the 2010 CECAFA Cup for Tanzania. That goal was the game-winning goal in N'Djamena proving vital in eliminating Chad on away goals after the series finished 2-2 on aggregate. Tanzania hoped to defend the CECAFA Cup on home soil again. However, Tanzania managed only a fourth-place finish despite losing four of its six overall matches, one of which included a 3-1 loss to Uganda in the semifinals.

The man who replaced him was a fellow Dane who not only was his namesake but had also been coaching Tanzania's under-21 team.

Action from Abidjan in a World Cup Qualifier

 Shaban Nditi  (#19) of Tanzania battles for possession with Côte d'Ivoire's Gervinho (#10) during a 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification match in Abidjan's Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny. on June 1, 2012.
Shaban Nditi (#19) of Tanzania battles for possession with Côte d'Ivoire's Gervinho (#10) during a 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification match in Abidjan's Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny. on June 1, 2012. | Source

A Litmus Test in 2013

A Namesake Carries the Torch

On May 12, 2012, Tanzania promoted Kim Poulsen from its under-21 squad to lead the national team. Having coached primarily in his Denmark (which included a 2000 Danish Cup and Danish Supercup with Viborg), Poulsen had a daunting task for Tanzania - three major games during June 2012. In Abijdan's Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny on June 2, Tanzania lost 2-0 to open World Cup qualifying. A week later on June 10, Tanzania got in contention with a crucial comeback victory against The Gambia 2-1. On June 17, Tanzania traveled to Maputo to face Mozambique in a 2013 Africa Cup of Nations second leg.

For the second straight time, Tanzania overcame a 1-0 deficit to tie the match in this series. However, this goal came when it mattered courtesy of a player who has also represented Zanzibar (not a FIFA-member). Aggrey Morris scored his first goal for Tanzania in the 89th minute as the goal forced extra time. As aggregate finished 2-2, penalties determined who would advance. After nine rounds, Tanzania would be out.

Despite the elimination, Tanzania was still ascending, and it finished 2012 with a third-place finish in the CECAFA Cup. During the tournament, the nation matched its highest victory to date - a 7-0 victory against Somalia; the tournament gave Tanzania confidence heading into 2013.

Early that year, Tanzania pulled off two impressive results. Samata's 89th-minute goal helped Tanzania upset Cameroon 1-0 in a friendly on Feb. 6, 2013. On Mar. 24, 2013, Tanzania pulled off an even better scalp - this as it resumed 2014 World Cup qualifying. They defeated Morocco 3-1. Confidence was sky high with two crucial qualifiers. However, despite taking the lead in Morocco and at home against Côte d'Ivoire, Tanzania lost both games. Tanzania ended this qualifying campaign with a 2-0 defeat in Bakau, Gambia.

By 2014, Tanzania would be in search of another manager.

A Long Way to Egypt It Seemed...Back in 2015

Players battle for possession during a quarterfinal of the 2017 COSAFA Cup in Rustenberg, South Africa. Tanzania upset the hosts en route to a third place finish.
Players battle for possession during a quarterfinal of the 2017 COSAFA Cup in Rustenberg, South Africa. Tanzania upset the hosts en route to a third place finish. | Source

So Many Years Making a Difference

Following Poulsen's departure in 2014, Tanzania had mixed results. For the second straight Africa Cup of Nations qualification campaign, Tanzania would be out in Maputo - Domingues's 81st-minute goal enough to send Mozambique to the next round. In 2015, Tanzania hit another low point, beginning on June 14, 2015 when Tanzania lost 3-0 in Alexandria's Borg El Arab Stadium. Egypt scored three goals in 10 minutes in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, with Mohamed Salah capping off the scoring. Tanzania ended 2015 with elimination from 2018 World Cup qualifying, with the second leg being a 7-0 loss in Algiers on Nov. 15, 2015. That result came three days after Tanzania was up 2-0 on Algeria, only to tie the match at 2-2.

With its third manager in as many years, Tanzania began 2017 with a pair of friendly victories against Botswana and Burundi. Nearly three months later, Tanzania began its qualification phase for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with a 1-1 draw at home against Lesotho. Following that match, Tanzania embarked on another regional tournament. However, Although a member CECAFA, Tanzania, received an invite to play in the 2017 COSAFA Cup (Council of Southern Africa Football Associations) after Comoros declined to participate. It would be a tournament which saw Tanzania surprise many people.

Tanzania got both goals from Shiza Kichuya in the tournament's opening game against Malawi. A week after winning that match 2-0, Tanzania was in a quarterfinal against hosts South Africa. Tanzania won 1-0 and would finish third in this tournament, courtesy of a penalty shootout against Lesotho.

Tanzania's hopes of another tournament came to a close in Jul 2017, but another opportunity opened the door that same month. CAF approved the tournament's expansion to 24 nations and a move to play the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations during June-July.

Now Tanzania needed the manager to get there.

History At Long Last

A Nigerian Summoning a Nation to Glory and Optimism

A Nigeria legend during the 1990s, Emmanuel Amuneke had previously coached Nigeria as the nation won the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup. In August 2018, Tanzania hired Amuneke to get Tanzania into the Africa Cup of Nations.Tanzania traveled to Uganda where, thanks to great goalkeeping, it played to a scoreless draw in Kampala. In October, Tanzania had a home-and-home with the Cape Verde Islands.Tanzania seemed to be in trouble after losing 3-0 on Oct. 12 in Praia. However, four days later, Tanzania got back on track in the return leg. Simon Msuva scored in the 29th minute to put Tanzania ahead, and Mbwanna Samatta helped secure victory with a 2-0.

Despite this confidence-boosting victory, Tanzania had another setback in November. Nkau Lerotholi's first goal for Lesotho in nearly five years nearly derailed Tanzania's chances after the 1-0 loss in Maseru. Tanzania was in last place and had to battle the Cape Verde Islands and Lesotho for second place. Not only would Tanzania have to defeat Uganda for the first time since Dec. 7, 2013, but Lesotho and the Cape Verde Islands had to finish as a draw.

Tanzania did its part, beginning with Msuva scoring in the 21st minute. Erasto Nyoni added a penalty kick early in the second half, while Morris scored his first goal for Tanzania since 2012. While winning 3-0, Tanzania still had to hold on hope and when word came that the other finished scoreless, Tanzania and its fans erupted into euphoria. Tanzania had finally returned to the Africa Cup of Nations, but more importantly, helped cap off an impressive showing for East Africa.

Tanzania was the fourth East African nation to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. Before that, no Africa Cup of Nations had more than two countries from East Africa.

In the months leading to the Africa Cup of Nations, Tanzania sought players to represent the nation. The majority of Tanzania's players participated with domestic clubs, including Nyoni and defender Kelvin Yondan. Samatta would be Tanzania's captain, thanks in part to his success with Belgium club Genk. Among the notable newcomers to make the squad included Adi Yussuf, who had been called to represent Tanzania in 2016, only to not play due to a suspension stemming from improper urination. Though eventually not making the squad, 15-year-old Kelvin John Pius even received a callup from Amuneke.

Tanzania only played two friendlies before the Africa Cup of Nations, where it would face the eventual tournament finalists in Algeria and Senegal, as well as Kenya. Msuva helped Tanzania lead for the first time at an African Cup of Nations in the second match against Kenya and Samatta also scored in the match. Though it would be the first nation eliminated from the tournament (after only two games), Tanzania making it to the Africa Cup of Nations was a story unto itself.

Following the tournament, Tanzania reached the second round of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, needed a penalty shootout to eliminate Burundi. Tanzania will begin its quest for a second consecutive Africa Cup of Nations, where it will host Equatorial Guinea before traveling to face Libya in a neutral venue. Tunisia will be the biggest challenge for Tanzania. One thing is sure: Tanzania has come home and will continue to improve.

In every journey there's a process of learning. When we go back we need to look at ourselves from a holistic perspective and see how we can develop our football.

— Emmanuel Amuneke, Tanzania's head coach following its ext from the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations

2019 Africa Cup of Nations Qualification Group L

Cape Verde Islands
Uganda and Tanzania qualified for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Antonio Martinez


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