Tanzania find themselves in one of the toughest groups in 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualification, paired with Africa’s top-ranked country Côte d’Ivoire plus four-time finalists Morocco in their bid to go to Brazil.
The Taifa Stars have never come close to qualifying before, but they have not looked overawed at the start of the campaign and after two rounds of matches they are right in the thick of things.
The steady hand on the wheel is national team coach Kim Poulsen, a 43-year-old Dane who took over from compatriot and namesake Jan Borge Poulsen earlier this year.
The former coach of AC Horsens and Viborg FF has previous overseas experience in Singapore, but his first major post is at the helm of the Tanzania team. He spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his impressions and plans.
Were you pleased with the way things went for Tanzania in your opening two qualifying matches in June?
Yes, I think with a new-look team, a young team, we played our first game away against Côte d’Ivoire, and the performance was good, even though we lost the game. Then we went back home and beat Gambia, and I think the team played very well, continuing the good performance we had put up in the first game. The victory was very important for the players. We find ourselves second in the group with one win and one loss, so we can be very happy. Of course, we know our next opponents, Morocco, will be very hard but with this young team, we’ve started a new journey and are looking to achieve greater heights.
How much potential is there?
We have moved a lot of youth into the team and we spent a good month together because we had a friendly against Malawi before we went to Côte d’Ivoire, then we played Gambia and finally Mozambique [in 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers]. We managed for the first time to draw in Mozambique, but unfortunately we lost on penalties. Again, though, it was a good performance and that showed me that there is potential in this team. If we get the right time to prepare the team, I think we can move forward to a new era.
When we played Côte d’Ivoire, it was the Tanzania family versus the English Premier League!
Losing to Mozambique must be a setback, and you have a lot of time now before your next FIFA World Cup qualifier in Dar es Salaam against Morocco in March...
Of course it was disappointing, but we all know that when a tie goes to penalties it’s all down to luck. And we lost it on the ninth penalty. It was a good opportunity to reach the Nations Cup finals because it is such a short qualifying programme, so obviously we would have like to have progressed to the last round of qualifying. But that’s football! We have a friendly on 14 November and then we’ll go to the CECAFA Challenge Cup in Uganda from 24 November until the middle of December. That means we’ll have a long time together with the team. That’s good preparation.
Is it an advantage that almost all the Tanzanian national team players are home based?
I think there are pros and cons. In one way, if you have players based abroad and on a really high level, of course they give something to the national team when they come back. When we played Côte d’Ivoire, it was the Tanzania family versus the English Premier League! And of course one can see that quality and the advantage, but if you only have foreign-based players who are in lower divisions in Europe that might be a different story. Tanzania doesn’t have players who are at the top level at any European clubs. I am of the opinion that if we bring players back they have to be at a level where they make a positive difference to the team. We just have a few players at clubs in other African countries and they can still come for the camps. You can look at it both ways.
What, then, are your ambitions for the Taifa Stars?
My dream, and it is one I share with the players, is that we can reach the finals of the next Nations Cup in 2015. This has not been achieved for many, many years by Tanzania. It is very ambitious, but I think it’s realistic, if we work properly on and off the field. For me the will to win is important, but the will to be prepared is just as important. That’s the slogan I like to work with. Sometimes you have dreams, but you think you can just assemble a team a few weeks before a match and have success. No. The will to win is important, but the will to be prepared is vital. We have also started a lot of development with the U-17 and U-20 sides, training regularly with them and developing them more. We have already introduced some players from the U-20 squad into the national team squad. If we were to qualify, it would be a big achievement for the country.