Poulsen sparking Tanzanian rise
© AFP

When Kim Poulsen assumed the Tanzania reins in May 2012, the Taifa Stars were ranked 145th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and 42nd in Africa. In less than a year, the Dane has helped the east Africans climb to 119th in the world and 33rd on the continent, after leaping up eight spots in the last edition of the global ladder. A surprising 3-1 victory over Morocco in a 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifier on 24 March will undoubtedly see the team rise even further in the next month.

Tanzania have only once managed to qualify for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. That was in 1980, when two defeats and one draw was not enough to see them escape the first round. Their Ranking story is similarly disappointing, reaching their all-time low in October 2005, when they were 175th in the world. Although they climbed to 89th in December 2007, they were caught in a downward spiral since then.

When Poulsen, who up to then had been in charge of the Tanzania U-20 team, replaced his Danish namesake Jan Poulsen, he introduced several of the players with whom he had worked with in the youth side.

"I look for players who have the class, of course, but they also have to have the character to do well and they have to have pride," Poulsen, who also mentioned that the team had benefited from a new long-term sponsor, which enabled the Taifa Stars to embark on a series of international friendlies, told FIFA.com.

If I was to speak in headlines, I would say, 'The will to win is important, but the will to be prepared is vital'.
Kim Poulsen

"It is one thing to have the support of the Tanzanian Football Federation (TFF), but now they also have the resources to put their plans into practise. They agree that to have success, they have to prepare and this is happening. There is a whole pipeline, with an U-15 national team, U-17, U-19, U-21 and U-23. The national youth coach regularly sees the teams. Resources are also made available for the senior side.

"We had some success in these friendly matches, beating Cameroon among others. We came very close to knocking out Mozambique in the AFCON qualifiers and only lost on penalties. But before that we beat Gambia in the World Cup qualifiers."

Ice-cream days
Poulsen says that he and his players do not believe that success automatically creates pressure for the team.

He said: "After beating Cameroon, there was a lot of interest from the fans and some people said that we would not be able to have the same success in competitive matches. But we always believed that we could do it and the game against Morocco showed that. We do not believe that our success puts the team under pressure, we regard it as a challenge. We are aware that if you win matches, you buy a ticket for more success and your fans want to see more success.

My players are all very keen to play games. I sometimes describe our match days, irrespective of whom we face, as big ice-cream days. The players have big smiles when they go on to the pitch and only if they are like that will they have success."

Poulsen said that he was particularly pleased that half of the team that played against Morocco - who are ranked much higher at 77th - were born in 1992 or 1993: "We also have any European-based players. There are two players who play in Congo DR, the rest are all from local clubs. I believe that if you want to use a foreign-based player, he has to be better than those that you can get locally. We are strong with the young players that we have.

"I am certain that the future is bright for Tanzanian football. Everybody knows that there are talented players in countries like Côte d'Ivoire and Morocco, but now they can see that we also have talent.

"Having said that, I'm aware that there will be some bumps on the journey on which we have embarked. The important thing is to then learn from these. They are as much part of the journey as the success along the way. The main thing is to have the backing to do well. If I was to speak in headlines, I would say, 'The will to win is important, but the will to be prepared is vital'."