Tanzania's U17 team line up
Tanzania’s qualification for the Under-17 Women’s World Cup was the first appearance by the nation at a global football event. The Serengeti Girls reached the quarter-finals.

Women’s football represents the “best opportunity” for Tanzania to achieve success on the global stage, according to the man who led the country to its first ever World Cup.

Tanzania’s Under-17 women’s team made history by qualifying for the tournament in India, being eliminated 3-0 in the quarter-finals by Colombia.

Despite that defeat, head coach Bakari Shime believes the match was a seminal moment for the women’s game, and that the Twiga Stars, as Tanzania’s senior women are known, should perhaps now receive greater backing than the men.

“Women’s football presents the best opportunity for us to play at the highest level which is why our priorities should shift to them,” Shime told BBC Sport Africa.

“We have a strategic plan to ensure that in years to come all our national teams, from the junior to senior levels, can play in all major African and world competitions.

“This is a turning point. I believe that once you achieve some level of success, you always want more.”

That success included a 2-1 victory over France in the group stage of the World Cup as well as a draw against Canada.

But the challenges on home soil are great, with the game in Tanzania suffering not only from a lack of investment but also from negative perceptions when it comes to women lacing up their boots.

President Samia Suluhu is among those to have been condemned for her remarks on female footballers, which reflected these long-held beliefs.

The under-17s have given the country a ray of hope – but can Tanzania now capitalise and become big hitters in the women’s game?

A league of their own

“Things have changed,” said Edna Lema, who won the Council of Southern Africa Football Association (Cosafa) Women’s U17 Championship in 2020.

“Women’s football is now a job and players can support their families, something that never happened in yesteryears,” she told BBC Sport Africa.

Lema worked in Tanzania’s fast-rising domestic league, the Women’s Premier League, as the former head coach of Yanga Princess.

For the first time since the league’s inception in 2016, it landed a three-year sponsorship deal in 2018 courtesy of the Serengeti Breweries Limited (SBL) which has led to increasing interest.

It is now a top destination for players in the region with several Kenyan players joining leading clubs including Jentrix Shikangwa and Topister Situma who signed for Simba Queens.

Tanzania and Candada U17s prepare to face each other
Tanzania’s path to the World Cup quarter-finals included a group meeting with Canada which ended 1-1

“A few teams like Simba Queens, Yanga Princess, Fountain Gate Princess and Tiger Queens have the financial power to sign foreign players and pay them well. This has made the league more competitive,” added Damian Masyenene, a Tanzanian sports journalist.

Last year, Simba Queens became the first club to represent the central African region in the Champions League, something that allowed them to test themselves against more established sides such as Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies from South Africa and Nigeria’s Bayelsa Queens.

“Women’s football doesn’t have any financial backing,” said Masyenene.

“Most of the teams are established based on owners’ interests and love of the game, but they lack the funds to operate and take care of players’ needs and wants. Consequently, most teams collapse.”

Like Shime, Masyenene believes fans now want more attention paid to the women’s game because it provides an opportunity for the country to shine at a global level.

“The Serengeti Girls’ achievement has created different views and opinions from football fans who are now urging the government and TFF (Tanzania Football Federation) to invest in women’s football.

“They see it as the only option to qualify for the World Cup, Afcon (Africa Cup of Nations) and other big tournaments because men’s football is lagging behind.”

The catalyst

Along with the U17s winning the Cosafa Championship in 2020, Tanzania also lifted the senior title in 2021.

Nevertheless, the World Cup triumph in India is viewed by many as the breakthrough that should catapult the country on to greater success.

The TFF has in recent times urged investors to support women’s teams, but more is expected from national administrators to ensure the promise shown does not go to waste.

“The Government and TFF should set plans to build on the achievements,” Masyenene told BBC Sport Africa.

“Talent grooming, attracting more sponsors, selling our players to foreign leagues are schemes that will make girls feel comfortable to participate.”

Shime believes his U17 girls have already played a role in shifting perceptions.

“People’s attitude has changed because we’ve shown that if we organise ourselves we are capable of playing at the highest level,” he said.

“Female footballers have been greatly inspired as they believe they can dream of playing on the world stage.”

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