Former Nigeria and FC Barcelona wing player, Emmanuel Amuneke made history with Tanzania late last year. He qualified the Taifa Stars for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations scheduled to hold next month in Egypt after 39 years wait. The only time Tanzania once played at the African football showpiece was when Nigeria hosted it in 1980 and the East African country crashed out in the group stage. Amuneke was given the mandate to make the near impossibility happen. But as a man who is not strange to making history he went into the Tanzanian job with a clear head. Remember how he came from the bench to score two goals that earned Nigeria the AFCON 1994 in Tunisia? Did you also remember his exploits for Nigeria at USA ‘94 and the Atlanta ‘96 feat in the Olympic final? As coach, after serving as an assistant to Manu Garba to win the 2013 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in UAE, he went to Chile with the class of 2015 Golden Eaglets to repeat to feat. And of course, FIFA chiefs in Zurich who have taken notice of this hardworking Nigerian gaffer found him worthy to be listed in its FIFA Technical Study Group to appraise the 2018 World Cup in Russia along with former international Stars like Brazilian Ronaldo de Lima, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Lothar Matthiaus and Alessandro Nesta. The panel also had the likes of Carlos Alberto Parreira, Fabio Capello and others too numerous to list here.
Amuneke who was amongst the Nigerian Legends that played an African All Stars Testimonial Match for outgoing Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode last Saturday at the Agege Stadium, took time out of his tight schedule to speak with DURO IKHAZUAGBE. Excerpt….
After qualifying Tanzania for AFCON 2019 scheduled to hold in Egypt next month, what should Tanzanian fans and others who have followed your coaching career be on the look out for?
We are prepared. We have qualified for AFCON after 39 years. Now that we have the chance to be amongst the 24 teams to play at the tournament in Egypt, we have to psyche ourselves that we are not going to make up the numbers. No doubting our capacity. We worked hard to earn our ticket to AFCON 2019.
We are not telling people that we have the players to do well or not. Wether they are Nigerian players or Tanzanian players, players have same mentality all over. What matters is getting them to work as a unit, with one purpose in mind. You do not necessarily need to have super stars to win a competition. First, we have done the needful, qualifying for the AFCON 2019.
What are your memories of even qualifying for the tournament considering the fact that nobody gave Tanzania any hope of making it to the Finals?
Our last game against Uganda gave us the ticket to AFCON 2019. The game was an important one for us. That stadium has seating capacity of 60,000. It was filled to the brim yet we had more than 30,000 of our fans outside the arena. Everybody just wanted to see Tanzania qualifying for AFCON again. I am happy we made Tanzanians proud that day.
When we lost against Lesotho, nearly everybody said oh that should have been an easy game for Tanzania. They seem not to realize that most countries have developed their teams and anything is now capable of happening in African football. As the players are growing, the teams are also growing. It was a wake up call for us in Tanzania, knowing that we needed to win our next match against Uganda to stand the chance of making it to the tournament in Egypt. That again, depends on what happens in the other game of the group which is between Cape Verdes and Lesotho. But at the end of the day, here we are going to Egypt as one of the qualified 24 teams.
However, I must confess here that Uganda is one of the teams nobody wants to play now in the African continent. They have very good players and very tactically good. They are very strong, aggressive and are fighters. We just have to control our emotions and concentrate on getting the job done. Otherwise, if we had played the same aggressive game with the Ugandans, perhaps the result would have been different.
Should Tanzania be given an outsider chance of making it out of the group to the next round at the tournament in Egypt?
Why not? We have same chances as the other 23 teams that have qualified for AFCON 2019. We qualified just like every other teams. We don’t need to be afraid simply because Tanzania is returning to the tournament for the first time in 39 years. Of course, we recognize Senegal and Algeria because of their experience in the tournament. They have history of Nations Cup behind them. But don’t forget that Tanzania also passed same route as the other teams to qualify. So we are preparing our team for the competition and be ready to play when the time comes.
Realistically, how far do you think the Taifa Stars can go in Egypt?
Really, I don’t know how far we can go. Even Nigeria, do you know how far the Super Eagles will go? Nobody knows. This is football. Lets wait for the tournament to begin to know what is in stock.
What is your rating of the Nigerian squad and its chances at AFCON 2019?
Nigerians have their believe they have good players but I will tell you that winning depends on how you can manage the moment. After four years absence, the Super Eagles are back to the tournament. So you have chances like other.
Do you still nurse any interests on the Super Eagles job?
I am a professional. At the moment my focus is on the Tanzanian job. When the time comes for the Nigerian national team we will talk about that but not now that I have a job to do in Tanzania.
I am not ruling out the prospect of coaching Nigeria some day if it is the will of God and if not, someone else will do the job. I take things one at a time. It is not a desperate thing for me but as a professional and being a principled man, I do whatever job I have at hand to the best of my ability. Super Eagles job is not on my mind now because I have a job in Tanzania. My focus now is how to improve Taifa Stars and make it one of the best teams in Africa. Even if I am not there tomorrow whoever that is coming to take over from me will meet a template in place that can lead to greatness. That is my dream for Tanzania football.