The Mambas of Mozambique are keen to move past the group stages in January, for the first time in their footballing history.
AFCON Appearances: 3
AFCON Titles: None
The Mozambican national football team, known as the Mambas did the unexpected in November 14, when they beat the then high flying Tunisia 1-0 at home to book a place in the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola and in the process denied the Carthage Eagles a coveted World Cup berth.
This will be the fourth time the Mambas will be making a stab at the continental championship. They previously qualified for the competition in 1986, 1996 and 1998, but didn’t progress past the preliminary stages.
But this time round, a more experienced squad under a new impressive coach Mart Nooij is gearing for battle ready to make a good impression by shaking the continental football big boys this January in Angola.
Road To Qualification
Mozambique was in Group 7 during the 2010 World Cup/Africa Cup of Nations second round qualifiers. The group was completed by Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar and Botswana. After the completion of six games for each team, Cote d’Ivoire led the group with twelve points with Mozambique coming second with eight points. Madagascar and Botswana finished in the third and fourth with six and five points respectively.
The top two qualified to the third round qualifiers. Mozambique was pooled in Group B with Nigeria, Kenya and Tunisia as the other teams. After the completion of all the group matches in November 14 2009, Nigeria pinched the top spot with twelve points with Tunisia coming close second with eleven points. Mozambique picked up the third spot with seven points and Kenya tailed the group with three points. The top three teams; Nigeria, Tunisia and Mozambique qualified for the African Cup of Nations in Angola.
In the African Cup of Nations finals, Mozambique is in group B together with Nigeria, Egypt and Benin.
Mart Nooij was appointed in February 2009 and took charge of the second round campaign. He managed the team during the third round before forcing their way to the continental finals. The Dutchman took over from Artur Semedo, whose contract expired and was not renewed.
Nooij previously worked with the Dutch FA as a training instructor. He was also coach of Burkina Faso's under-20 team, which took part in the 2003 World Youth Championship in the United Arab Emirates. His first match in charge of Mozambique was an African Nations Cup qualifier on the road at Burkina Faso in March.
The tactician did a sterling job with the Mambas, considering the fact that the team edged Tunisian in the final match of the qualifiers. The outstanding performance even led to the Nigerian Football Federation president Sani Lulu holding talks twice with him after the qualifiers with a view of contracting him to lead Nigeria in the African Cup of Nations and FIFA World in South Africa. Nothing though came out of the talks weeks later.
Nooij is widely credited with the resurgence of Mozambique, leading to their qualification for the Nations Cup after an 11-year absence.
Manuel José Luís Bucuane (Tico-Tico)
Tico-Tico, who captains the Mambas was born in 1973 in Maputo. The South Africa based striker has played a key role in the team despite his advanced age. Most notably, he scored the single goal against Kenya in Maputo which later became decisive as the two sides fought for the Continental finals spot.
Tico-Tico currently plays for Jomo Cosmos in South Africa and is the most capped player in Mozambique, while also holding the record for the most international goals for his country. The striker has played for a number of clubs such as GD Maputo, Estrela Amadora, Jomo Cosmos (has been to the club three times in his career), Tampa Bay Mutiny, Supersport United, Orlando Pirates, and Maritzburg United.
Simão Mate Junior (Panathinaikos)
The 21 year-old defensive midfielder has already earned almost a permanent place in the team. The lad who plays for Greek division one team, Panathinaikos FC has made 45 appearances for the club and scored one goal from his defensive position. He has 10 caps for the national team. Though he has not scored any goals for the Mambas as yet, he is key to their ability to hold off attacking sides.
He joined the Greek team who feature yearly in the European Champions League in 2007 from Mozambiqan side Clube Ferroviário de Maputo on a four year deal. He signed a new contract with Panathinaikos in February of this year, which included a higher release clause.
The youngster has since become a revelation because of his solidity, strength and tenacity. Despite his young age, he has made a fair share of first-team appearances and has become a precious solution for his club.
If the lad can carry his club exploits to Angola, he will not only help his national team make a mark on the continental stage, he will also open doors for Europe’s bigger clubs to come knocking.
Mozambique are hoping to do better than their previous three appearances on the continental stage. Despite being grouped against Africa’s big boys, the new coach has given the team confidence and they will be ready for battle come January. Reaching the quarter-final stage would be a big statement for the team that is emerging as a strong continental side.
The chances of Mozambique advancing beyond the preliminary stages in the Angolan finals look dismal as they must beat Nigeria and Egypt, the two top teams in the group, and Benin who showed great maturity during the qualifying rounds. It looks unlikely that they will beat the two giants. The best they can manage is finishing third in the group.