By Femi Solaja
Former African Footballer of the Year and Super Eagles winger, Emmanuel Amuneke, was the hero of the night as Taifa Stars of Tanzania yesterday booked the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) final tournament for the first time in 39 years. Amuneke, who was a cult hero moments after he was appointed Head coach of the country’s national team yesterday in a telephone interview with THISDAY last night said passionate football fans in the country were fully behind him and strongly believe the country will qualify to play in Africa’s biggest soccer show piece this time around.
The country, whose last appearance was when the then Green Eagles won the title on home soil in 1980, overpowered the Cranes of Uganda 3-0 before capacity crowd in Dar es Salaam to pick a ticket for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
“Today is an emotional night for me and I’m delighted to have piloted this team to win this important match. It was an agonizing moments before the match knowing fully well that we must win to stay in the tournament.
“Football is a uniting factor here. I can see happiness on the faces of everybody while the untiring support from the beginning to the end was a motivational factor for my players who never failed to take their legs off the gas.
“My wish for now is to go back and review the series with my team and to know where we are lacking and also hope we get a good draw when the ceremony hold soon in Cairo, Egypt,” Amuneke remarked shortly after the match in the telephone interview.
On whether he hope to renew or negotiate a fresh contract with the FA, the scorer of Nigeria’s two goals in 2-1 win in the final of 1994 finals in Tunisia said it too early for such talks and that his objective now is to remain focused to see the team go beyond bookmakers’ predictions at the finals.
“This is not the moment to start talking about my relationship with the FA. What is important to me is that my players have brought joy to the nation and I’m happy to be part of this historic moment and would not want to end it soon,” Amuneke reacted.
Amuneke, was celebrated from the stands with few minutes left, fans were chanting his name having broken the jinx that had afflicted Tanzania in the Africa Cup of Nations’ qualifying series since the country last qualified in 1979 for the 1980 tournament.
He will no doubt be celebrated in the East African country where he mounted the saddle last August. Amuneke is already noted for landmark achievements having scored the two goals that won for his country, the first African title outside the home turf.
That he did in 1994 before two years later scoring the goal that changed the course of history in the Olympic Games’ football tournament. With his third goal in added time of the final match with Argentina at Atlanta ’96 Olympics, Amuneke made Nigeria to become the first nation outside Europe to win the Olympic Games’ football tournament in 68 years.
Significantly, since Amuneke’s winning goal 23 years ago, no European country has ever won the Olympic Games’ football event.
In the match proper, Simon Msuva launched the Tanzanians on victory path in the 21st minute to dent the record of Uganda which although already qualified, had not conceded any goal in the entire qualifying series.
Erasto Nyoni added a second after the break with Aggrey Morris making it 3-0 to Tanzania on a memorable day for the hosts.
With this feat, Amuneke became the second Nigerian coach to qualify a foreign team to the tournament after Late Stephen Keshi did it with Hawks of Togo in 2005 for 2006 tournament held in Egypt the following year as well as Eagles of Mali for AFCON 2010 in Angola.