Tanzania are on the breach of qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 1980.
The last time the Taifaa Stars featured at the Africa Cup of Nations, none of the current crop of players were born. Coach Emmanuel Amunike was a 10-year-old preteenager in Eziobodo -Nigeria, while some 559 km away, the Super Eagles thrashed Tanzania 3-0 in the opening match of the 1980 edition also in Nigeria.
It was the first and only time the Swahili speaking nation had qualified for what was then an eight nations tournament which was split into two groups of four. Tanzania lost two of the three matches [3-1 to Nigeria and 2-1 to Egypt and claimed their only point in the 1-1 draw against Ivory Coast as they bowed out in the first round. Ever since then, they have never qualified again for the biannual spectacle.
38-years later, with a Nigerian native at the helm, Tanzania are on the verge of putting an end to this long wait with a return to the continental tournament.
Amuneke had the unenviable task of securing qualification to Cameroon next year after replacing Salum Mayanga as Tanzania coach, and the unenviable challenge of getting past Uganda - who are vying for back-to-back qualification having also featured at the 2017 Afcon in Gabon, in an unforgiving qualifying group.
But that, seemingly afar from Tanzanian football after many failed attempts, seems closer to reality under the Nigerian's tutelage. Amunike's man are laying second in Group L with five points [1 win, 2 draws and 1 deafeat], five points behind Uganda and going into the final two rounds of qualification, the East African's have their fate in their own hands.
Uganda, who need just a point to seal qualification, and Cape Verde kick-off this group's action with a possible group deciding encounter on Saturday in Kira.
Victory for Uganda against the Islanders will be of great advantage to their Cecafa neighbours and their chances of booking their spot in Cameroon.
This will mean that heading to their clash against Lesotho in Maseru on Sunday, Tanzania will just need to overcome Lesotho to seal qualification as it would mean that even if Cape Verde wins their last encounter against Lesotho, they can only reach a maximum of seven points. While Tanzania will still have another shot at qualification with a win in their last group game against the Cranes in March next year.
Tubaroes Azuis will also be desperate to keep their qualification hopes alive though as a win for them will see the group take a different twist. Cape Verde would reach seven points with a possibility of finishing with 10 points if they also beat Lesotho in Maseru next year.
But a draw between Uganda and Cape Verde, will seal qualification for Uganda and mean that Tanzania will need to win one and avoid defeat in the other from the two remaining matches.
.@TaifaStars_ left for South Africa yesterday to set up a camp as they prepare for their AFCON 2019 Qualifiers game against Lesotho.
Group L standings @UgandaCranes - 10
Tanzania - 5
Cape Verde - 4
Lesotho - 2 pic.twitter.com/1dipJG2rYl — Airtel UG Football (@AirtelUFootball) November 7, 2018
Some scenarios for this weekend :— Lotfi Wada (@LotfiWada) November 14, 2018
Tanzania will qualify for AFCON if they beat Lesotho & Cape Verde lose in Uganda.Mauritania will qualify for AFCON if they beat Botswana in Nouakchott. #AFCON2019q
Elsewhere, a defeat or draw for the Crocodiles will all but end any hopes they have left of qualifying. But a win will mean they go level with Tanzania on five points and both sides will go to the last group encounters vying for that second spot.
Most important though is that Amunike's men have their fate in their own hands heading into the last group encounters and as much as certain results will influence the group, two victories will most certainly guarantee them a spot in Cameroon next year.
Should they qualify, they will feature in a new structured competition with 24 nations - previously 16 countries - from the African continent competing for the gold-plated trophy. And also the first tournament to take place in June, usually held in January and February, for the first time following a vote by CAF's Executive Committee in 2017.