SERENGETI Boys were able to take heart from a positive display at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals despite a heartbreaking exit from the coveted continental youth tournament.
The Tanzania’s U-17 side crashed out of the 2017 U17 Afcon in Gabon after going down 1-0 to Niger in Port Gentil on Sunday. Despite finishing on equal points (4) and goal difference (0), the Boys were piped to second place by Niger in group B standing on superior head-to-head record.
The Serengeti Boys drew with defending champions Mali before beating Angola 2-1 in their two opening matches and needed a draw against Niger to sail to the semis and also book a slot in the U17 FIFA World Cup.
“We had our expectations and it was disappointing for us to lose this last match when we needed a draw to go through; what we have to live with this unfortunate result despite coming close,” said Serengeti Boys assistant coach, Milambo Oscar.
“We went through the same process with the other teams; starting from the qualifiers and so much positives for us to take despite the fact that we came very close to getting to the knockout stages,” added Oscar.
Oscar said they will take a lot of encouragement from the debut appearance at the AFCON youth finals as they look ahead to the next edition of the championship to be staged in Tanzania in 2019.
“We have learned so much and I think this would put us in good position to compete well at home when we host the continent in 2019,” he said. Responding to the Boys’ elimination, Jamal Malinzi, President of the Tanzania Football Federation, said the country should turn focus on preparing the team for the 2019 U-20 Afcon qualifiers slated to kick off from June, next year.
Malinzi revealed that the current Serengeti Boys players will be graduated to U-20 side, Ngorongoro Heroes ready to represent the country in the U-20 qualifiers.
“The next AFCON U-17 finals will be held in Tanzania in 2019,” he said adding “the current Serengeti Boys are becoming Ngorongoro Heroes, after a break for a certain period, they will go into camp (to prepare for U-20 qualifiers,” he said.
Malinzi said the U-15 players currently at Alliance Academy in Mwanza will now form the new Serengeti Boys side.
“There is no time for grieving; we should go back to work. Principally, we’re preparing the senior team, Taifa Stars, for the 2016 World Cup, whose qualifiers start in 2024.
By joining Ghana, Guinea, and Mali in booking their tickets for India in October, Niger made history by qualifying for a first-ever FIFA tournament after defeating Tanzania 1-0 in Port Gentil to finish second in Group B, above the Tanzanians thanks to a superior goal differential.