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Cranes on the verge of history

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DAR-ES-SALAAM, Tanzania, December 9- Uganda will chase history when they face Rwanda at the Cecafa Tusker Challenge Cup final on Saturday.

Having been taken the distance by hosts and defending champions, Tanzania Mainland in their semi final, The Cranes are on the cusp of winning an unprecedented 12th regional crown should they take the sting out of The Wasps of Rwanda.

Both semis were ideal advertisements of the regional game with Rwanda out scoring Sudan 2-1 in the first before Uganda eventually drained the energy out of Tanzania Mainland to win 3-1 in extra time.

Therefore, on Saturday, Uganda will meet Rwanda in the Final, for only the second time ever.

Uganda Cranes were winners in Nairobi in 2009 and in their first encounter in 2003, the Cranes also topped in Sudan with both matches recording identical 2-0 victories.

It will be Rwanda’s fifth Final, their sole title so far having come in the inaugural one at home in 1999 when their “B” side [they had entered two] thrashed Kenya 3-1.

Sudan 1 Rwanda 2

Only the veteran ‘captain marvel’ Olivier Karekezi could have forced the decider of this cliff-hanger. His spectacular goal 12 minutes from time knocked the breath out of Sudan.

Karekezi controlled the ball, forced himself free from tight double-marking in the six-yard box to beat Sudan goalie Elmoiz Mahgoub from the narrowest of angles at the left near post.

Rwanda had taken a first half lead through Jean-Claude Iranzi before Ramadhan Agab equalised in the second period.

From a long ball from mid-pitch, Karekezi knocked down perfectly for Iranzi to make a brilliant finish with a hard ground shot for Rwanda’s 1-0 lead.

They would have been 2-0 six minutes before halftime if a Sudanese defender had headed into his own net under Jean-Claude Mugiraneza’s pressure but the cross bar kept the ball it back in play.

Sudan enjoyed some ascendancy in the second half and incessantly pressed for goal.

Agab forced Rwanda custodian Jean Claude Ndori to a fine save on 52 minutes. It was all Sudan with the Ndori having to be at his best to keep out Mohammed Tahir Osman’s effort five minutes later.

But a tactical Rwanda, on the counter, threatened to extend their lead on 66 minutes through Meddie Kagere who hit the upright from 25 yards but midfield maestro Haruna Niyonzima was unable to keep his shot down from the rebound on 66 minutes.

Having escaped, Sudan went up the other end, equalising when Agab hit an acrobatic overhead scissor-kick that baffled Ndori.

Karekezi’s winner was his fifth goal, leading a thoroughly offensive team that has scored 12 in five matches.

Uganda 3 Tanzania Mainland 1

It was 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes before Uganda, who had been let off the hook on three occasions, ran away with victory, confirmed by a great goal from substitute Emmanuel Okwi and a penalty by defender Isaac Isinde.

Mrisho Ngassa exploited his supreme pace to give Tanzania Mainland the lead after 18 minutes; chasing a long ball into no-man’s land to punish a stranded Abby Dhaira in the Uganda goal.

But lack of alertness to a quickly taken corner kick from the right flank enabled Cranes skipper Andrew Mwesigwa to rise up above a bemused defender Shaban Nditi and powerfully head in the equaliser in the 56 minute.

Both sides started the game with intent, Ngassa testing the Cranes ‘keeper Dhaira and the Cranes’ Hamisi Kiiza giving Juma Kaseja in the Tanzania goal some work when he met Sula Matovu’s cross from the left in opening exchanges.

But Tanzania started to take care of proceedings. First Juma Jabu escaped Mwesigwa’s marking with the goalkeeper to beat but shot over.

The alarm bells continued ringing for the Uganda defence and the door had to yield to Tanzanian’s early pressure.

Ngassa raced onto a long ball from his own half, shrugging off the defender Isinde and facing Dhaira who was coming off his line to clear the danger.

But in so doing, a half-hearted Dhaira was beaten to the ball by Ngassa who walked it into the net for the 1-0 lead.

Tony Mawejje then forced Kaseja into a fine save but the hosts could have extended their lead when Mwesigwa dilly-dallied with a high ball, losing it to Ngassa, who squared for Ibrahim Javu to boom a shot off the cross bar.

The Tanzanians went to the break in ascendancy but the Cranes turned tables after the break as they searched for an equaliser.

Matovu, who had an enterprising game on the left midfield, beat his man before crossing to Kiiza whose weak header from three yards was well saved by Kaseja.

But two minutes later, the equaliser did arrive, Mwesigwa heading past Kaseja off that Mike Sserumaga corner.

Okwi, on for Sserumaga, who was withdrawn after getting booked, should have made it 2-1 thereafter following his solo run into the area but Kaseja was again defiant, blocking his shot.

The last 20 minutes of normal time saw more of physical play than ball action as Ethiopian referee Bamlak Tessema dished one yellow card after another, with Godfrey Walusimbi the biggest casualty as he will miss the final.

The 90 minutes couldn’t produce a winner, just like last year, and extra time had to be called on.

Nditi will rue contributing the miss of the tournament when he inexplicably headed off the line with Dhaira at sea before again firing wide a minute later.

Okwi should have punished the Tanzanians on the other end but Kaseja, for the umpteenth time thwarted him.

But when Simeon Masaba crossed from the right, Okwi jumped highest in the 102nd minute to head past Kaseja for 2-1.

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