After two weeks of grueling matches in Kakamega and Kisumu, Kenya will battle rivals Uganda in the final of the 2023 Council of East and Central Africa Football Association (Cecafa) Under-18 championships at Jomo Kenyatta Stadium today (Friday) from 2:30pm.
The final will be preceded by the third-place playoffs match featuring Tanzania and Rwanda from 11am as curtains come down on the regional junior showpiece.
Speaking during their last training session at Kasagam Secondary School, Junior Stars goalkeeper Ibrahim Wanzala said they are ready for the final.
The Kakamega Homeboyz prodigy, who was the hero on Tuesday after saving two penalties during Kenya’s 4-3 post-match penalty semifinal win over Tanzania, believes they have the talent and what it takes to lift the trophy at home.
“We have had enough rest building up to the final, especially after the grueling semifinal, which was played over 120 minutes and the boys are rearing to go again," said Wanzala.
“It was amazing saving the two penalties and helping Kenya to the final and I'm confident ahead of the final. We know it won’t be easy against Uganda, but we are mentally prepared for everything and we are going to fight until the end."
Junior Stars head coach Salim Babu called on fans to turn up and support them, just as they have done since the tournament began.
“Kenyans were amazing on Tuesday. Come again today we celebrate victory together. These young boys need you once again because with your support, they can reach greater heights and play even better,” said the former Kisumu All Stars coach.
Babu added that the squad is healthy and are going for an all-out attack against Uganda.
“Tanzania were more defensive. We did not play the first half of the semis well and you noticed we played better in the final half. We want to go on attack from kick off against Uganda and finish the job early,” said Babu.
Junior Stars are still unbeaten in the tournament having played four matches.
During the preliminary matches, Kenya thumped Somalia 4-1, Sudan 5-0 and Rwanda 1-0 to finish top of Group A with nine points and 10 goals, conceding only one goal.
The semifinal 0-0 draw was the first time Kenya failed to score during the Cecafa matches and the team will be put to test against Uganda today.
Spanish-based Aldrine Kibet leads the goal scoring charts with three goals after scoring in the opening three matches.
Kibet, who was silenced during the semifinal with the physical Tanzanian defense and midfield, will be eying the golden boot award at the end of the tournament.
Meanwhile, Cecafa CEO Auka Gecheo has said security has been improved ahead of the final and the limit of fans will be capped at 15,000.
Gecheo said there will be no pitch invasion as witnessed during the semifinals after improving on the security measures.