On Tuesday, defending champions Tanzania Mainland timed themselves perfectly; coming to life for the first time in the tournament to register an upset 1-0 victory that ended Malawi’s run in the tournament.
Kilimanjaro Stars had struggled in the pool stage, gaining their place in the quarter finals as the lowest ranked qualifier. But surprisingly, they seized the initiative from the word go, transforming themselves into potential winners.
In the early kick-off of the double-header at the National Stadium, Uganda stifled the spirit of a Zimbabwe team that had shown promise in earlier matches and Cranes duly triumphed by a similar margin.
Semi-final pairings on Thursday will be: 2.00pm – Sudan v Rwanda; 4.00pm – Uganda v Tanzania Mainland.
Zimbabwe 0 Uganda 1
Hamisi Kiiza, who is sufficiently familiar with the pitch at the 60,000 seat National Stadium, where he frequently turns out for his Dar-es-Salaam club, Young Africans, hogged the limelight after his 14th minute goal pushed the Cranes into the semi-finals.
The Cranes played their traditional game of power, speed and sustained pressure, to deflate bloated expectations of the Zimbabweans who had looked formidable in their 2-1 defeat of Tanzania Mainland in their last Group ‘A’ match on Saturday.
After Qadir Amini tested Uganda goalkeeper Abel Dhaira with a powerful free kick in the fourth minute, all action shifted to the Zimbabwean side with the Cranes speedy Sula Matovu on the left wing a constant threat.
Matovu did all the work for the goal, quickly shifting up the gears on the left to deliver an inviting cross that was met by the head of Kiiza.
Zimbabwe’s answer was in their best attack of the half which came in the 26th minute when Bernard Ngoma advanced in the area after beating Godfrey Walusimbi and Isaac Isinde, but the Cranes skipper, Andrew Mwesigwa, cleared the danger.
Mwesigwa, who plays for Kazakhstan side Ordbaasy, almost doubled Uganda’s lead in the 23rd minute but his goal bound header was pushed away by Zimbabwe goalkeeper George Chigova.
Mike Sserumaga was next to spurn an opportunity, lashing his shot against the post from 10 meters out after Matovu had set him up.
The Zimbabwe Warriors returned from recess in much better shape with Ngoma, Charles Sibanda, Tapiwa Khumbuyani and Benjamin Marere all having a go at the Cranes backline.
Tony Mawejje forced a fine save from the Zimbabwe ‘keeper on 53 minutes but the first real chance of the second half was for the Warriors seven minutes later when Benjamin Marere beat Godfrey Walusimbi on the left.
But Sibanda’s intended lob with Mwesigwa and Isaac Isinde beaten on 68 minutes went over the bar in what was the best chance for the Zimbabwe to draw level. The player lay prone in the turf for over a minute to rue the miss.
Tony Mawejje was denied by Chogova’s fingertip touch as Uganda looked to finish of the contest.
At the other end Sibanda had two great chances fall his way but his touches let him down with the goal at his mercy.
Malawi 0 Tanzania Mainland 1
Playing with new found conviction, home side Tanzania pulled off an upset 1-0 win against Malawi to astound their sceptical home fans.
Nurdin Bakari sent home an unstoppable shot on 36 minutes to send the National Stadium stands into rapture.
Earlier, Ramadhan Chombo only needed to pick his spot but aimed straight at a Malawi defender with their keeper stranded.
“We have received a lot of criticism from journalists and the fans but we are still in the competition,” Tanzania coach Charles Boniface Mkwassa could not help saying.
Initially, the Malawi Flames saw better of the ball but it was Kilimanjaro Stars who put their chance to count after looking dangerous in the penalty box.
Bakari, who had for long troubled Pililani Makupe, Ndaziona Chilemba and company in defence, controlled Mrisho Ngasa’s pass, then his fine execution with the outside of his right boot sent over 40,000 home fans into raptures.
Thomas Ulimwengu should have given Kilimanjaro Stars the lead earlier after Ngasa’s deft work on the right but his weak shot was cleared out of danger by the Malawians.
Coach Kinnah Phiri’s Flames returned a different package after the breather and Tanzanian skipper and goalkeeper Juma Kaseja came to the fore.
Ndaziona Chatsalira, John Banda and Joseph Kamwendo all tested Kaseja as the Flames turned up the pressure cooker.
But counter attacks from Tanzania kept them at bay. Ngasa’s solo run from his own half, beating a forest of bodies before Malawi’s James Sangala made a desperate interception, was the highlight breakaway for the besieged Kili Stars.
Mkwasa’s men held off Malawi’s late challenge to book a repeat of last year’s edition semi final against Uganda.
Then, the Kilimanjaro Stars carried the day 5-4 on spot kicks after normal time had ended goalless.