By Joseph Kizza
Cecafa final result
Uganda 2 (Kimani o/g 28', Kizito 90') Kenya 1 (Lavatsa 87')
Tanzania 1 Zanzibar 1 (Zanzibar won 6-5 through penalties
KAMPALA – Uganda Cranes have beaten Kenya’s Harambee Stars 2-1 at Namboole Stadium to defend the Cecafa Cup title they won last year in Tanzania.
The hosts’ first goal ricocheted off Kenyan defender and captain Anthony Kimani and into the back of the net, thanks to a powerful shot by Robert Ssentongo from a right wing build-up.
Ssentongo’s goal kept the two sides separate until late in the 87th minute when an Edwin Lavatsa’s equalizer changed the atmosphere inside a fully-packed Namboole Stadium. But then, the defending champions wrapped up their victory three minutes later courtesy of a brilliant Geoffrey Kizito header from a measured free-kick.
Uganda’s tally in the regional tournament now stands at 13 titles, while Kenya remain second-best with five final victories.
The former's record comes on the back of an unbeaten run this year, having let only one ball past its goalmouth from Lavatsa's equalizer in the final showpiece.
Brian Umony, whose only goal won the Cranes a final's victory against Kenya four years ago, received the player-of-the-tournament award, Robert Ssentongo was the best striker of the event, and the accolade for the best goalkeeper went to Hamza Muwonge.
Uganda Cranes now are USD30,000 (about sh81 million) richer for their top place finish in the tournament, and the Harambee Stars go back home with a well-earned USD20,000 (about sh60 million).
It wasn’t smooth sailing for the defending champions against the very team they beat 1-0 in the opening match of the event. The Harambee Stars, who travelled to Kampala without their head coach Henri Michel, had returned a much better side.
Saturday’s final showdown ushered in a quick-paced game, with both sides looking ever sharp and agile.
Uganda’s first real attack came just three minutes into the first half but Kenya's number one Duncan Ochieng’s hands proved safe enough on this occasion. Equally, Kenya’s first corner kick, and the first of the game in the 5th minute, was eased away very well by the Cranes back.
A cocktail of spirited attacks, relieving saves and heart-stopping shots from either end of the pitch sprinkled life into the opening minutes of game play but yielded no goals.
The home fans were truly ecstatic at Namboole Stadium as their side went to bag another Cecafa Cup title. PHOTO/Mpalanyi Ssentongo
The midfield started off the busier part of the field than any other, with Kenya’s Mike Baraza injecting hope for an opener into his fellow teammates every once and again. Over the other end, Emmanuel Okwi was busy launching lethal attacks goalwards.
But only many a time did his efforts go wasted.
The energy invested into the game came to a temporary halt in the 16th minute when Kenya’s David Owino Odhiambo pulled a hamstring without contact. That injury saw his playing time come to an agonizing end with teammate Kevin Omondi stepping on in his place.
Harambee Stars’ early substitution threw the game into a new dimension when the hosts mounted more pressure from the front right wing. Eventually, the opener came through in the 28th minute when Ssentongo fired a heavy ball goalwards, and was lucky that it bounced off Kenya's captain and past keeper Ochieng.
Despite going a goal down, the Kenyans hang on ever tightly, experimenting with the aerial balls every now and then. Mike Baraza, who featured in the 2008 final when the two sides had last met in a final, had a busy evening, orchestrating quite a number of attacks alongside Clifton Miheso.
Just on the brink of the break, Lavatsa's effort past Ugandan goalstopper Hamza Muwonge sure looked like an assured equalizer, only for it to kiss off the outer post and roll out. Agony for the Harambee Stars.
The second half brought into play a number of substitutes, and the Cranes' coach going for a switch in formation, placing three attackers out at the front.
Emmanuel Okwi, who had an enjoyable game, came off for Said Kyeyune in the 65th minute, just moments after the fans had had their share of an off-pitch cheering when ushers brought down the coveted trophy.
The Kenyan coach brought on Paul Were for Kevin Omondi 10 minutes to full time, hopefully to change the scoreline. And when the Stars started to run out of time, Lavatsa's 87th-minute goal could not have come at a better time.
But the joy of the visitors was shortlived when Kizito's header into the top corner of the net from a right wing freekick sent the whole stadium into a thundering eruption.
And when Burundian referee Thierry Nkurunziza blew his whistle after three minutes of added time onto the normal 90, Uganda, with an unbeaten record this year, would be crowned the Cecafa champions, a record 13 times, with the most recent four under Coach Bobby Williamson's reign.