I’ll freely admit that I hadn’t heard of Tanzania’s Mrisho Ngassa before watching his country’s pre-World Cup friendly against Brazil yesterday afternoon, but the Azam FC right-winger was extremely impressive against Dunga’s much-fancied side and shone brightly even in comparison to the stellar cast of the Selecao.
At just under 5ft 4in, Ngassa may lack physical presence but more than makes up for his diminutive stature with blistering pace and a level of skill far higher than that of any of his international teammates. Indeed, the most impressive aspect of Ngassa’s performance was the way in which he exposed the defensive frailties of Michel Bastos, Brazil’s left-sided full-back. The Lyon player was constantly caught out of position by the rapid Tanzanian and turned inside-out on a regular basis as Robinho failed to get back to cover the defender, thereby allowing the 21 year-old Ngassa more space than any other of the Taifa Stars’ players.
Although Tanzania is far from being a hotbed of footballing talent, Ngassa did briefly register on the radar of the European game when he trialled at West Ham United in the April of last year. Despite being given a two-week opportunity to impress at Upton Park, Gianfranco Zola and his coaching staff declined the opportunity to offer the jinking winger a contract, denying Ngassa the chance to become the first Tanzanian footballer to ply his trade in Europe.
Following his trial with the East London outfit, the player turned down proposed moves to both Lov-Ham Fotball of the Norwegian second-tier and Al-Merreikh, one of Sudan’s most prestigious clubs, eventually opting to move within Tanzania from Young Africans FC to Azam FC, his current side, for 58 million Tanzanian shillings (roughly £30,000).
Ngassa may be staying in his homeland for at least one more season, but, with his remarkable speed and ability, looks poised to move on to bigger and better things in the near future. In fact, with yesterday afternoon’s demolition of Michel Bastos highlighting what could be Brazil’s achilles heel in South Africa, the winger’s influence may well be seen in how teams approach games against the five-time World Champions this summer. East Africa is without doubt a rising force in world football, and Mrisho Ngassa – along with McDonald Mariga at Internazionale – might just become a major pioneer for the game in the region.