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Tanzania National Team: Football Journey of Historic Proportions

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.


So much can change for a nation in 39 years, especially in football. 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 times against the continent's elite nations while even withdrawing from qualifying. That second chance to reach the Africa Cup of Nations eluded Tanzania for quite a while, especially during qualifying for the 2019 edition.

However, Tanzania not only benefited from a significant announcement in 2017 but also achieved the necessary results when it mattered. That also included winning its final qualifier at home against Uganda and getting another vital result across the continent. Tanzania ended a 39-year drought to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Tanzania's road to Egypt and its return to Africa's premier event 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. Tanzania had its first shot at a major tournament, not until trying to reach the 1974 Africa Cup of Nations. Only a penalty shootout against Mauritius denied Tanzania a tournament berth. However, things changed as the nation headed into the 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 Africa Cup of Nations' opening match at the National Stadium in Lagos. The late Juma Mkambi scored Tanzania's first-ever goal to bring the game to 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

Tanzania endured mixed results on the international scene in the 1990s. Kelvin Haule's lone goal in a 1992 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Zaire helped Tanzania secure what would be its only victory in qualifying. On Sept. 3, 1994, Tanzania kicked off the 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, Tanzania crashed to a 5-1 loss in Cairo, despite trailing 1-0 at halftime. Even heading into its final qualifier, Tanzania had an outside chance of reaching the tournament. Mohammed Hussein 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 send 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 subsequent 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 struggled mightily against better opposition. That included an 8-0 defeat 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 occurred during the CECAFA Cup, where Rwanda knocked out Tanzania in the quarterfinals.

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

Rebuilding an Opportunity

Tanzania waited nearly three years before another continental qualifier after its loss to Kenya during the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Before then, Tanzania hired Marcio Maximo as its manager. Having groomed stars like Ronaldo and Ronaldinho at Brazil's youth level, Maximo last managed a team while at Scottish club Livingston.

After winning its first two matches under Maximo, Tanzania pulled off one of its most notable victories on Sept. 2, 2006. Tanzania commenced its qualification phase for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. The 2-1 win 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, Mozambique had Tanzania atop its group after two games ahead of a crucial match in Senegal.

Tanzania suffered a crushing 4-0 defeat there, with Senegal's Mamadou Niang recording a hat trick. Though it recorded another victory against Burkina Faso in its penultimate qualifier in Ouagadougou, Tanzania missed out on the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations following a 1-0 home loss to Mozambique. Tanzania struggled early in qualifying for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations (doubled with the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers). A 2-1 loss in Yaounde, Cameroon, confirmed Tanzania's elimination with two games remaining. Tanzania did finish winning its final two games, with the latter being a 3-1 victory at home to the Cape Verde Islands to knock out its opponents from contention.

An opportunity for a prestigious tournament arrived when in 2007, the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) established a new national competition that would utilize only players in its domestic league. Spots in the Africa Nations Championship came down to regional qualification matches, including Africa's Central East Zone having seven nations but only one place. 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 came close to a semifinal berth; however, the nation went from group stage winners to eliminated minutes during its group stage finale. 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 something to play for in its final game against Zambia. The game remained scoreless until Shadrack Msaigwa scored on a penalty kick two minutes before the injury. With the other match being scoreless, Tanzania was able to win its group and reach the semifinals. However, Dennis Banda scored in the fourth minute of injury time to knock out Tanzania.

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.

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, a coach in Singapore and Armenia, would help Tanzania make history late in 2010 on home soil.

Despite its opening loss to Zambia, Tanzania reached 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 reached 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. Though 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. That victory came against the Central African Republic courtesy of a 90th-minute goal from Mbawma Samatta. Tanzania had another two-legged series following the qualification phase 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.

Poulsen's replacement was a fellow Dane, who was his namesake and had also been coaching Tanzania's under-21 team.

 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.

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 Denmark (which included a 2000 Danish Cup and Danish Supercup with Viborg), Poulsen would give Tanzania a daunting task with - three major games during June 2012. The first came in Abijdan's Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny on June 2, where Tanzania lost 2-0 to open World Cup qualifying at Côte d'Ivoire. 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.

Once again, Tanzania overcame a 1-0 deficit to tie the match against Mozambique. 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 the 2014 World Cup qualifying where it upset Morocco 3-1. Confidence was sky high with two crucial qualifiers. However, Tanzania lost both games despite taking the lead in Morocco and at home against Côte d'Ivoire. 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.

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 two low ebbs during separate qualification campaigns.

Tanzania began its 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying with a 3-0 loss at Egypt on June 14, 2015. In that game at Alexandria's Borg El Arab Stadium, Egypt scored three goals in 10 minutes, with Mohamed Salah capping off the scoring. Tanzania ended 2015 with elimination from the 2018 World Cup qualifying. The devastating result came on Nov. 15, 2015, where Tanzania slumped to a 7-0 loss in Algiers. The loss came three days after Tanzania failed to retain a 2-0 lead against Algeria and completed the match a draw.

With three managers in three years, Tanzania began 2017 with a pair of friendly victories against Botswana and Burundi. Nearly three months later, Tanzania began its 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualification with a 1-1 draw at home against Lesotho. Following that match, Tanzania embarked on another regional tournament as the nation received an invite to play in the 2017 COSAFA Cup (Council of Southern Africa Football Associations) after Comoros declined to participate.

Tanzania benefited from this invitation, where Shiza Kichuya scored both goals in the tournament's opening game against Malawi. A week after winning that match 2-0, Tanzania pulled off another upset, with a 1-0 quarterfinal victory against hosts South Africa. Tanzania finished third in this tournament, courtesy of a penalty shootout against Lesotho.

In July 2017, a historic decision occurred where CAF approved the tournament's expansion to 24 nations and a move to play the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations during June-July. Instantly with renewed hope, Tanzania required the manager to get back.

History At Long Last

A Nigerian Summoning a Nation to Glory and Optimism

A Nigerian legend during the 1990s, Emmanuel Amuneke had previously coached his nation to victory at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup. In August 2018, Tanzania hired Amuneke as the country traversed to Uganda in the following month. Excellent goalkeeping produced Tanzania a vital scoreless draw in Kampala before a home-and-home with the Cape Verde Islands loomed. Tanzania seemed to be in trouble after losing 3-0 on Oct. 12 in Praia. However, Tanzania got back on track as goals from Simon Msuva and Mbwanna Samatta were enough to secure a crucial victory.

However, Tanzania suffered another setback when Nkau Lerotholi's first goal for Lesotho dented Tanzania's chances to reach the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. Not only would Tanzania have to defeat Uganda, but the other match between Lesotho and the Cape Verde Islands needed to play out to a draw.

Come March 2019, and Tanzania achieved its part, beginning with Msuva's 21st-minute goal. Erasto Nyoni added a penalty kick early in the second half, and Morris scored his first goal for Tanzania since 2012. While winning 3-0, Tanzania still required the other result to progress their way; when word approached that the other match concluded with zero goals, Tanzanian fans erupted euphorically. Tanzania had returned to Africa's showcase event, capping off an impressive showing for East Africa to become the fourth East African nation to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

No previous Africa Cup of Nations had more than two East African countries.

Before the tournament, 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, having once received an opportunity to play 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 Algeria, Senegal, and 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 game. 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 knocked out Burundi to reach the second round of 2022 World Cup qualifying via a penalty shootout. Following its return back to the Africa Cup of Nations, Tanzania ended another drought on Oct. 18, 2019. Nyoni scored the first of two vital road goals Tanzania needed to knock out Sudan in Omdurman's Al-Merrikh Stadium to qualify for the 2020 African Nations Championship.

Attempting to reach a second straight Africa Cup of Nations, Tanzania began with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory against Equatorial Guinea. After Msuva's 69th-minute goal canceled out an earlier goal from Pedro Obiang, Salum Abubakar scored his first-ever in stoppage time. The same scoreline occurred in Tunisia four days later, though it would be Tanzania on the wrong end of a come-from-behind match against Libya. In that match, Samatta scored on a penalty kick.

Samatta made history two months later in becoming the first Tanzanian player to play in the English Premier League. With the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, qualifying moved earlier, Tanzania has two matches in March 2020 against Tunisia. It hopes that the nation remains in contention come Sept. 8, 2020, at home against Libya. Following that series, Tanzania embarks on a possible 2022 World Cup entry in which it would have to face three 2019 Africa Cup of Nations participants: DR Congo, Benin, and Madagascar.

Their quest to win a continental trophy is still a work in progress, but Tanzania has returned to prominence and will prove that 2019 was no fluke.

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

Tanzania's Journey to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations

Tanzania qualified for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations on Mar. 24, 2019. Following the 3-2 loss to Kenya, Tanzania was the first nation mathematically eliminated from the tournament.


June 10, 2017

Lesotho (H)


Dar es Salaam: Benjamin Mkapa Stadium

Sept. 8, 2018

Uganda (A)


Kira: Mandela National Stadium

Oct. 12, 2018

Cape Verde Islands (A)

3-0 Cape Verde Islands

Praia: Estádio Nacional de Cabo Verde

Oct. 16, 2018

Cape Verde Islands (H)

2-0 Tanzania

Dar es Salaam: Benjamin Mkapa Stadium

Nov. 18, 2018

Lesotho (A)

1-0 Lesotho

Maseru: Sesoto Stadium

Mar. 24, 2019

Uganda (H)

3-0 Tanzania

Dar es Salaam: Benjamin Mkapa Stadium

June 23, 2019

Senegal (N)

2-0 Senegal

Cairo, Egypt: 30 June Stadium

June 27, 2019

Kenya (N)

3-2 Kenya

Cairo, Egypt: 30 June Stadium

July 1, 2019

Algeria (N)

3-0 Algeria

Cairo, Egypt: Al Salam Stadium

© 2019 Antonio Martinez