NAIROBI, November 30- Hosts Ethiopia and record 13-time winners, Uganda will contest the first semi final of the 2015 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup after qualifying to the last four in contrasting fashion on Monday at the Addis Ababa International Stadium.
First up were the Cranes who are vying to lift the trophy for the first time since 2012 and they duly dispatched invited side Malawi 2-0 with captain Farouk Miya and Caesar Okhuti on target in each half in a clinical display.
Keeper Abel Mamo was the hero for the home side at the packed Addis Ababa International stadium when he stopped two post-match spot kicks to lift the Walia Ibex to the semis in a nerve-wracking 4-3 defeat of Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Stars.
The tie ended 1-1 after regulation time with Kilimanjaro skipper, John Bocco powering in the opener in the 25th minute with a header before Gathoch Panom converted from the spot on 55 to restore parity for the final outcome.
After being de-feathered by reigning champions, Harambee Stars 2-0 in their Group B opener, Cranes continued to underline their pre-tournament favourites’ status with a third victory on the trot against Malawi.
“In the second half it was better but there were patches of mistakes at the back. In exactly three days, we have to analyse, correct and ready for the semi final. There is no better way of going for the team apart from winning.
“We had a rude awakening against Kenya because we were affected by the weather but we woke up and came out of the group of death.
“We played a good team, Malawi now, four matches, three wins and not conceding in three. This is good motivation ahead of Thursday,” Cranes head coach; Serbian Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredjovic, said after the clash.
His man-of-the-moment, Farouk Miya, headed their first in the 13th after he arrived in the box unmarked to convert a cross from Joseph Ochaya who was given the freedom of the left flank by the Malawi Flames to deliver the assist.
Miya who notched his fourth of the tournament then turned provider, laying the ball for Okhuti on a plate to side-foot home two minutes upon the restart as both sides spurned chances to add to the score line.
“The guys didn’t play well. We conceded early goals that destabilised us but Uganda were the best side. Uganda were first on the ball and good luck to them. We are preparing for the tough away game against Guinea in the AFCON qualifiers and I hope the boys learned good lessons,” Flames coach, Ernest Mtawali, admitted.
Ethiopia who scraped to the quarters courtesy of two late goals once again held the overwhelming support of the home crowd at ransom before punching their ticket to the last four by winning the lottery of post-match spot kicks.
With action returning to the Ethiopian capital from Hawassa, the Walia fans packed the stadium to its seams and they, along with an entire continent watching on television, could not believe their eyes in the 16th minute of the pulsating encounter when their side contrived to miss three rapid chances when nail-on to score.
From a raking breakaway on the right by Eliyas Mamo, the ball was pinged in the Tanzanian box and Belay Benayem was twice denied at point blank range by Kilimanjaro keeper, Said Mohammed before the falling striker just failed to connect a third.
Ethiopia paid handsomely when Bocco gave the designated home side of the day from the lead when he rose the highest to head home a corner, capitalising on the height disadvantage of the home defenders.
Walia poured forth in search of the equaliser and after causing Mohammed some discomfort, went to the break trailing but returned to equalise ten minutes into the second half when Panom sent the Taifa keeper the wrong way after Yissam Bereket was hauled down in the D.
A late flurry of substitutions and raids failed to produce a winner at the end of the 90 plus time added on and penalties came to the fore.
Abel had the stadium rocking when he dived to his right and saved Jonas Mkude’s poor effort for Tanzania’s opener before Panom beat Mohammed again from 12-yards to give Ethiopia the advantage.
Hamid Mao, Hassan Ramadan and Bocco kept Taifa in it when they converted their next three with Mohammed Nasser, Ashelew Tamene and Behaylu Girma doing the same for Walia for 4-3 with the decisive kicks to go.
It was the perfect platform for Abel to earn his man-of-the-match award when he beat away a lame attempt at the Panenka from Shomari Kapombe to set-off ecstatic celebrations on the stands.
“Without the supporters, we would not be here. From the start, this team is coming from behind. It’s a habit now. This team does not quit. It’s not only a lesson for soccer alone, it’s a lesson to players, in life you can go through some many things but never give up, never quit.
“Too many fouls and I’m glad my players did not lose their minds. The referee, I can say, in the first half was not good and in the second half he was okay. We should have won before the penalties, we deserved what we got. Playing for the national team is not a joke,” the delighted Walia Ibex boss, Yohannes Sahle hailed his side.
His opposite number, Abdallah Kibandeni, decried the officials favoured the hosts claiming skewed decisions tossed his side out of the regional showpiece.
“I’m grateful we have finished well and everyone has seen how the game went. Home teams have advantages over visitors. We made a mistake by missing two penalties and we will go home but there is a big problem with referees.
“Today, Ethiopia were given a penalty without reason and our 1-1 draw in the group stages was refereed badly,” the Kilimanjaro boss charged, alluding to their previous clash in Hawassa where the Ethiopians salvaged a point with an 88th minute equaliser.