KAMPALA, Uganda, Jan 11 – Harambee Stars are on the threshold of winning their second Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) Senior Challenge Cup title in seven years after reaching the final of Africa’s oldest football tournament after edging Tanzania 2-1 in Sunday’s semi final.
Francis Ouma and Mike Baraza scored for Stars within the first 25 minutes of the first half as Stars took advantage of a wanting Taifa Stars defence to race into an early lead at the Nambole Stadium to get a foot in the final to be played at the same venue.
The first ten minutes of the match was characterised by incisive passing from both sides with Tanzanian playing inviting balls into the Kenyan penalty area while Stars midfielder Kevin Ochieng featured prominently in his team’s attack through the middle of the pitch.
Stars started to dominate possession as they started to push players forward which put their East African rivals on the backfoot.
Ouma missed his first open chance on goal after the Kenyan midfield continued to make a mockery of the Taifa defence. Ochieng who was open collected a pass in the far corner before squaring it across goal for the oncoming Ouma who failed to connect.
Last year’s Kenya Premier League (KPL) Golden Boot winner made amends for his earlier miss with the first goal of the match after he tapped in an inviting cross to put his side 1-0 ahead.
Tanzania’s problems were compounded two minutes later when Mike Baraza pounced on a ball played behind his opponents defence and slotted it in to make it 2-0 to Stars.
Stars continued to lay waste to the Tanzanian midfiled with Baraza, Ochieng and Mulinge Ndetto all making a nuisance of themselves while the defence led by captain Edgar Ochieng, George Owino and the impressive Joseph Shikokoti not giving the Taifa strikers any breathing space.
The last twenty minutes of the first half saw Francis Kimanzi’s side adopt a long ball strategy in an attempt to exploit the pace of Ouma and Baraza, and Joseph Njuguna upfront.
Halftime was the tonic Tanzania needed in order to regroup which they did as they emerged from the changing rooms a different side after the interval than the one Kenya ran ragged in the first half.
Ouma was still his belligerent self early in the second period as he pounced on a Owino pass on the right wing and left a Taifa defender for dead as he angled towards goal only to send his shot across goal.
Owino continued to terrorise Taifa, this time on the left wing when he set up Baraza who launched another speculative shot on the Tanzanian goal which grazed the post much to the anguish of the Young Africans striker.
The tables began to turn as Tanzania started to lay siege on the Kenyan goal which paid dividends in the 80th minute as Taifa striker Danny Muranda took advantage of confusion in Kenya’s defence to stick the ball at the back of the net.
What followed was a tense closing period as Tanzania were denied two clear penalties, first when Ochieng appeared to foul Muranda in the area and when the ball struck a Stars defender’s hand in injury time.
Kimanzi was a relieved man after watching his team reach the final.
"I’m very happy with what I saw today, though in the last few minutes there was lack of concentration from the players and the officials also lost control of the match but its great to be in the final," said Kimanzi in the post match interview.
"I must commend the team for their tactical discipline and their growing from strength to strength with every single game. Conceding two goals up to now in the tournament and also scoring goals at this stage is fantastic and I hope we can do the same in the final," he added.
Stars will meet CECAFA hosts Uganda in Tuesday’s final after the Cranes thrashed Burundi 5-0 in the other semi final.