After two weeks of action, the 36th edition of the Council for East and Central African Football Associations (CECAFA) Tusker Challenge Cup will come to a conclusion on Saturday the 8th of December 2012 in Kampala, Uganda.
From an initial complement of twelve national teams the stage is now set for the two best teams in the tournament- Uganda and Kenya – to come head to head in a replay of the 2008 final that was also played in Kampala.
It is anticipated to be a tight encounter with Uganda under the stewardship of Bobby Williamson touted to be the favourites on the day. In their opening game the Ugandan Cranes as they are known, narrowly beat their Kenyan opponents Harambee Stars 1-0 but were in control for most of that match.
Uganda has played some free flowing exciting football the entire tournament and have in the process recorded impressive results. After the narrow win over Kenya they beat Ethiopia twice and South Sudan before routing Tanzania 3-0 in the semi finals.
The win over Tanzania was even more impressive as Tanzania are no push overs having earlier in the tournament posted a devastating 7-0 victory over Somalia.
The secret of Uganda's success has been consistency under their head Coach Bobby Williamson who is now in his fourth year as the Cranes’ National team tactician. The former West Bromwich Albion and Kilmarnock striker has been outstanding as Ugandan team coach and his stewardship has seen Uganda rise meteorically.
Additionally the Ugandan team at the CECAFA tournament boasts an array of impressive talent.
Kenya on the other hand sent to the tournament a team that has been termed in some quarters as their ‘B’ squad comprising of local based players. The ‘main’ team under the tutelage of the Head Coach Henri Michel is being readied for participation in the African Nations Championships (CHAN) Qualifiers against Burundi from the 16th of December 2012.
As such expectations were low when the quickly cobbled Harambee Stars unit travelled to Kampala. These expectations were lowered even further when Uganda beat them in their first game.
However convincing victories against South Sudan, Malawi, Ethiopia and a nerve wracking semi final win over Zanzibar has increased the Stars mettle and turned them into a formidable opponent in Saturday’s final.
The Stars will need to neutralize the Ugandans swift wing play and midfield dominance that has been evident the whole tournament. The best way to do this would be to stifle the Cranes midfield and cut off the penetrating forays up-field of Joseph Ochaya and Emmanuel Okwi.
To further stem the incessant attacks of the Ugandans, the Harambee Stars coach James Nandwa may resort to a press and counter format with the emphasis being to break attacks and prevent supply to the Ugandan wingers. It will be important for the Stars to prevent an early deluge of goals.
A 4-3-3 formation with Edwin Lavatsa and Paul Were partnering in form Mike Baraza upfront would be ideal. That formation can be rapidly re-deployed to a 4-5-1 formation with Were and Lavatsa falling back to support the midfield as and when necessary.
In the Stars goal experienced custodian Duncan Ochieng has been stable but has looked vulnerable from set pieces. The Stars would therefore need to be tight on the opponent forwards without being overly zealous in the tackle.
The Ugandans weakest link seems to be their goalkeeper Hamza Muwonge who several times in the semi final against Tanzania looked uncertain. He is however supported by a strong defence of Isaac Isinde, Henry Kalungi and Dennis Guma who were all outstanding against the Taifa Stars.
Robert Ssentongo has been outstanding this tournament having hit the back of the net four times and this together with the imperious dominance of the Ugandan midfield pairing of Geoffrey Kizito and Hassan Waswa means the Kenyans will have a lot on their plate come Saturday.
The Ugandan Cranes start as overwhelming favourites largely due to the euphoric support that they enjoy and the form they are currently enjoying but being a final the Kenyans who have improved with each passing game may upset the apple cart and with it pocket the 30, 000 US Dollars prize money.
The Kenyans would especially want to put one over the Cranes after their coach was quoted as saying that “One thing I know is that we have the best team in the tournament. I don’t think anyone can beat us and we don’t fear anyone”. To the Kenyans a win would take them back to the pinnacle of regional soccer which they dominated for long spells in the 80s and early 90s.
It will be a mouth watering clash between two bitter regional rivals and one waits to see if the pre match hype that has preceded the clash will replicate itself on the field.
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