By Paul Bassey
Friday, September 11, Lubumbashi, 9am: T P Mazembe arrive the stadium named after them to train for the must win CAF Champions League encounter against Moroccans Moghreb Tetouane.
A young man passes me and he looks very familiar. Could not place him. I get curious. Who is that? I ask. Samatta. Yes Samatta, the young Tanzanian who ran rings around our defenders during the Nations Cup qualifier in Dar ES Salaam. Samatta Nbwana Ali.
I bid my time.
After training I walk up to him. “Young man, you are the one who gave us sleepless nights in Dar Es Salaam?”
“Are you a Nigerian?” He asked with a hearty laugh. “Yes I answered”
“Sorry, very sorry I know you people wanted that match badly, so sorry” Another round of laughter.
But how come they played so well? In Nigeria we never thought they could give us so much problem.
“ Yes. We knew that you were going to take us for granted. We knew that you think we will be easy, so we were very determined to play the games of our lives.
“ Nigeria is a big football playing nation with stars worldwide. We were expecting a lot of fight and we were ready. The government was also there for us, training tour, equipment, everything and we were told to reciprocate the good will and the support”
Where they disappointed that the Nigeria they saw was not the Nigeria they expected?
“ For us Nigeria was Nigeria. When we discovered that the stars we expected were not there, we were not fooled. For us Nigeria was Nigeria and we believed that whosoever was called up to represent Nigeria was going to be a tough nut to crack.”
Ten minutes into the match, Samatta and his colleagues found out that the Nigeria before them was beatable and they went for the jugular.
“ Ten minutes into the match, in fact from the first minute, we had the feeling that we could win the match and we went for it. The crowd was behind us, the boys were fired up and we kept up the pressure”
Were they aware that we had a new coach, a new team and that we were not likely to present the type of opposition they expected?
“ I said earlier that for us, Nigeria was Nigeria and all we knew was that they were going to be a formidable opposition. Another weapon we had is that the coach told us they were going to come and intimidate us, that they were likely to be confident, over confident that they will beat us, so we were to go at them from the blast of the whistle and it worked for us. We did not allow them to settle down. We took the battle to them and it worked”
The goal keeper.
“ Ah he was their saviour. He stood between us and goals. He was very experienced. As the match progressed we became scared of him. Any time we approached the goalmouth, we started thinking how we could beat him and that affected our game even when the coach addressed that at half time”
The 23 year old No 9 for TP Mazembe believes if Tanzania plays as well as they did against Nigeria, they may spring a few surprises.
In Congo DR, Lubumbashi, he is known as “ Samatta goal”
Signed from Simba club of Tanzania in 2011, this year has not been too prolific as he was yet to score for club in the Champions league group stage.
Last Saturday, he was to change all that when in the 57th minute, he was the target of a floating pass, he ran to it, controlled warded off the stiff challenge of a defender before unleashing a pile driver for Mazembe’s third goal in the 5-0 drubbing of Tettouane.
Early this year Samatta was in Moscow for trials with CSKA and was set to become the first Tanzanian ever to play in the European Champions League.
Playing for TP he says has helped him a lot given the professional way the club is run and the presence of a lot of stars from all over the continent.
“ I am still young I know I have a lot of future ahead of me”
Is he looking forward to the return leg in Nigeria. Does he give Nigeria any chance to progress in the Qualifiers?
“ Any country that underrates Nigeria does so at her peril. Nigeria remains a potential force any day. I know people have given the group to either Nigeria or Egypt. Let’s see how it is going to be. However, after that impressive showing against Nigeria, don’t take us for granted “ Laughter.
Anekeme on my mind
I salute the youth who represented Nigeria at the Commonwealth Youth Games, especially the athletic team that emerged winners of the track and field event. Before I wonder why we did not enter for other sports as much as possible, permit me to single out Aniekeme Alphonsus for commendation.
A product of the MPN sponsored schools athletics competition in Akwa Ibom State, there is a future for this young girl if only the AFN will put more effort in investing in the youth. Aniekeme is returning from Samoa with three gold medals, a silver and a bronze. Incredible.
The world beckons.
See you next week.