Building a national team based on a strong core of players from the same club is not a new concept. It is, however, one that has captured the imagination in Tanzania as the country's reigning champions, Young Africans FC, sent nearly their entire starting 11 to wear the national colours at the recently-concluded CAF African Nations Championship in Côte d'Ivoire.
Brazilian-born Tanzania boss Marcio Maximo selected in his Taifa Stars no less than 10 players from Young Africans to compete at the debut version of the CHAN, as the competition is known. Only African-based players were eligible for the tournament, and although the Tanzanians were knocked out in the group stages, they left with their heads held justifiably high.
A 1-0 defeat in their first game against Senegal was followed by a 1-0 victory over the hosts. In their final do-or-die group match against Zambia, they took a 1-0 lead in the 88th minute through defender Shadrack Nsajigwa, who converted a penalty awarded after a Zambian defender had handled the ball in the area. However, a place in the semi-final was not to be as the table-topping Chipolopolo quickly responded with the equaliser that would see them through, an acrobatic injury time finish from Dennis Banda off a 94th-minute corner.
Twenty-year-old striker Jerry Tegete, one of the 10 Young Africans, is confident that even the disappointment of being knocked out in such heart-breaking fashion has its positive side. "The experience we all gained by playing in the tournament was immense. We will even learn something from the way in which we were knocked out," the speedy forward told AFM. "Drawing a game in which we were leading with two minutes to go and knowing that we could progress if the result stays was terrible. We should have known."
But if we are in the situation again, we will be ready." The defiant player went on. "The experience that we gained with the national team at the CHAN will hopefully also come to good use for Yanga (as Young Africans are known throughout the continent)."
Tegete and his team-mates will not have to wait long before putting their recent international experiences to the test as the 16-time Tanzanian champions travel to Egypt for a Round of 32 test in the CAF African Champions League on 15 March. Their opponents are no less than six-time African Champions Al Ahly, who in 2000 were named African Club of the Century. The teenager is confident that Yanga will be able to test the reigning African champions. "Now we know we don't have to be scared of anybody. I am not saying that we will beat Al Ahly and go through, but we certainly have a fighting chance."
Yanga's coach, Serbian Dusan Kondic, who was involved in Red Star Belgrade's historic European Cup victory in 1991, also believes that his side will not be disgraced against the mighty giants from Cairo, who boast some of Egypt's top players. "I do not talk about results... If we can walk away having played well, I'll be happy. You never know what will happen in football, but we won't have a complex when we face them."
Kondic, who is married to an Angolan and has made Africa his second home, coached in Angola for well over 10 years, winning a domestic cup and league double there. With a working knowledge of the continent's football, he knows exactly what his side is up against. "I have huge respect for Al Ahly, they have millions of supporters and are fully professional," the coach said. "It is probably the biggest club on the continent and they represented Africa at the last Club World Cup."
Helping the national coach
Kondic is not surprised that Maximo included 10 of his players in the Taifa Stars' squad for the finals in Côte d'Ivoire. "When I joined the club a year and a half ago, they had less than a handful of players in the national team. But we worked hard and we won the championship and need just one more win from six games to win again this season."
The Serb also said that he has the highest regard for Maximo. "A national coach has a choice. He can either pick a few players from many different clubs, or he can go for a block and then in a way, part of his job has already been done for him as they will be used to a style of play. I suppose if he goes for a Yanga block, it shows that he believes in the work I am doing."
The current relationship between club and national team was well summed up by 43-year-old Young Africans President, Imani Madega. "When the Taifa Stars play at CHAN we are behind them, and when we travel to Egypt to play Al Ahly, we are ambassadors." Besides pride, however, he did admit to the flip-side to having so many players with the national team. "They have spent a long time away and played a different style. They will have to get used to our game again and there is not that much time."
Now with national team duty out of the way, the block of Young Africans will need to re-focus their sights on their club, and a date with undisputed African royalty.
Courtesy of African Football Media (AFM)