After months, weeks, and days of rigorous preparations, the stage is now officially set for the 2013 edition of the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup that gets underway on Wednesday afternoon at the Nyayo National Stadium with twelve teams set to battle it out for top honours.
From top seeds Uganda and Ethiopia to minnows Somalia and the newest kid on the block South Sudan, teams are set to battle it out for the Sh2.6 million prize money and the prestigious trophy that is up for grabs.
Title holders Uganda Cranes and Ethiopia’s Walya Antelopes start as pre-tournament favourites but this is not to say they will bag the cup or have an easy ride to the final.
Only teams that will exhibit consistency, play some finesse football and showcase tactical discipline will triumph at the end of two weeks of energy sapping and thrilling football.
As much as hosts Kenya and favourites Uganda and Ethiopia are billed to hog the limelight, underdogs such as South Sudan and Somalia will want to make a statement even as they brush shoulders with the “big boys”.
Somalia comes in to the tournament after a peaceful transition back home that has opened way for their domestic league to resume after years of dormancy.
“Football is a huge sign for peace and youth development. In Somalia, I see some tangible progress like the ongoing football league which is taking place at such a beautiful facility,” Somali Football Federation President Ali Gaid said recently during the commissioning of the Fifa refurbished Banadir Stadium which coincided with the start of the league.
It is this optimism captured by Gaid and the aura of hope that is sweeping across the horn of African country that the Ocean Stars will be hoping to ride on in the tournament.
In the last two editions, the Ocean Stars have exhibited some flair but after failing to convert it scoring opportunities crashed out at the preliminary stages.
In 2011, in Tanzania, the Ocean Stars under Kenyan Alfred Imonje mesmerised fans with their flowing football but could not master the class to muscle their way out of the group stage.
However as they gear up for their group B kick off match on Thursday against Burundi at Machakos’ Kenyatta Stadium, their aim would be to navigate past a difficult group that also includes guest team Zambia and Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Stars.
South Sudan looking for experience
On the other hand, Africa’s newest state South Sudan though ranked at a dismal position 205 by Fifa have come into the tournament “to enjoy themselves”.
The Mali Sorokibaso coached side are as a matter of fact the most inexperienced and youngest team in the region and will be fighting not just for pride but also to gain experience at international level.
In their debut appearance in the competition last year in Kampala, they showed a lot of promise and pundits will be hoping they can go a step further and make it to the knockout phase.
Pooled in group A alongside Harambee Stars, Ethiopia’s Walya Antelopes and Zanzibar’s Heroes, the Bright Stars will be aiming to dazzle in the two week tournament and pull off a shock on their fancied group opponents just to make a statement.
Earning a quarter finals berth will be considered “good enough” for the young state which still lacks the requisite football infrastructure.
Meanwhile for the first time, the recently refurbished Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos will host some of the matches.
The 8,000 capacity venue will hosts a total of eight matches with Harambee Stars group match against Zanzibar also set to be played at the same venue.
Besides Machakos, football lovers in Mombasa will also get a slice of live action after the Municipal Stadium won the nod of the organisers to host some of the games.
It is however in Nairobi where the bulk of the action will be played with Kisumu’s Moi Stadium in a race against time for completion to host semi final ties.