Simba SC's championship journey, which started with a 3-0 thrashing of Mwadui FC back on July 2 2019, reached its climax on Sunday as they got the point they needed against Tanzania Cities in Mbeya City to be crowned Mainland Premier League champions.
Under Belgian coach Sven Vandenbroeck, Simba's tally of 79 points proved too much for Azam to catch, and they finally got their hands on their third title in a row and the right to represent the country in the Caf Champions League next season.
How did Simba ride to success?
The road to the title looked easy for the giants from the word go, as they registered nine straight wins from their opening nine matches.
After seeing off Mwadui 3-0, Simba won subsequent matches against rivals Yanga SC 1-0, African Lyon 3-0, Azam FC 3-1, Lipuli FC 3-1, Stand United 2-0, Ruvu Shooting 2-0, Mbao FC 3-0, and Coastal Union 2-1.
However, it was Kagera Sugar who ended the perfect run as they managed to beat the champions 2-1, though when many thought they were to crumble after the defeat, Simba roared back to beat Alliance FC 2-0 in their next match.
After the Alliance game, Simba went for a run of 19 matches without tasting defeat which included the 8-1 hammering of Coastal Union and the 3-0 win against Kagera in the second round fixture.
Again, they suffered their second defeat against Mwadui, who won 1-0, but despite the loss, they once again build another incredible run of 19 undefeated matches before they lost to rivals Yanga by a solitary goal.
By the time the league took a break in mid-March owing to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Simba had already hit 71 points from 28 matches and were looking unstoppable, while Azam, were lying second on 54 and Yanga third on 40 points.
Quality players fighting for the team
Simba coach Vandenbroeck has attributed the team’s latest success to his players, who he said are dedicated to the course and always use their brains when playing in matches.
“I think I have the best team in Tanzania because, in my squad, all the players want to score goals and also defend as a team,” Vandenbroeck told Goal. “All my players play as a unit, they push for one agenda and it has always become very easy to win matches.
“For example, if you look at my captain [John Bocco], he is a striker but sometimes you will find him defending when we are under attack.
“My players use brain football, and it is difficult to counter such players, they play as a unit and at the same time playing using the brain and they always work together, if one player moves from his position, there is always another player to cover for him.”
His sentiments are echoed by Rwanda striker Meddie Kagere, who insists their success is based on teamwork being showcased by the players in every single match and especially the leadership of captain Bocco.
“We are always looking at one another when playing in a match but the one who stands out most is our captain because of his leadership skills,” Kagere, who is the club’s top scorer with 19 goals, told Goal.
“He is one kind of a leader, who always wants to win and who always believes in winning, if you lose a game, you will see how mad he becomes, he never wants to lose in a match, he is a fighter and always a winner.
“Whenever you step onto the pitch, [Bocco] will keep rallying the boys, he always wants three points and nothing else, he is also a very cool guy and he knows what to do on the pitch, he knows how to get the goals and also he is very good at setting up someone to score.
“Whenever we lose or draw in a match, he will always come to us to explain to forget about the result and focus for the next match, that is him if he doesn’t win, then he will just encourage the players, to go for a win in the match.”
Simba were the most consistent club
For his part, Yanga coach Luc Eymael believes Simba achieved the feat because they were the most consistent side this campaign.
“I want to congratulate them for winning the league, I am a guy who loves fair play and I think I have to congratulate them for the latest feat,” Eymael told Goal.
“The difference between Simba and Yanga on the log was already too big when I arrived, I think Yanga was number six when I arrived to take over but already moving from number six to two is not bad but Simba also deserved to win the crown because they were the most consistent side in the league.”
What does the title triumph mean for Simba?
Apart from keeping the trophy for good, the victory underlined Simba and Yanga’s dominance in the top flight over the last decade, as Timu ya Wananchi have won the league five times while Wekundu wa Msimbazi had clinched it four times in the last 10 seasons.
Simba’s three successful consecutive campaigns, in the 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons, also saw them reach Yanga’s record achieved in the 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons.
It was the second time Simba have been champions in three straight campaigns as the same feat was achieved from 1993 to 1995, and they also won the inaugural Premier League title, then known as Sunderland, in the 1965-66 season.
The win is even bigger for Simba's new players - Francis Kahata, who had conquered the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) with Gor Mahia, Sharaf Shaiboub (Sudan), Luis Miquissone (Mozambique), Brazilians Tairone Santos da Silva and Gerson Fraga Vieira as well as coach Vandenbroeck - as it was their first season with the giants.
Vandenbroeck’s immediate task now is to start planning for Champions League action where he will be required to perform better than his predecessor Patrick Aussems, who was knocked out from the preliminary stage by UD Songo of Mozambique last season.