Kenya’s Junior Stars unbeaten run in the ongoing 2023 Council of East and Central Africa Football Association (Cecafa) Under-18 championships will be put on test when they play neighbours Tanzania today (Tuesday) in the semifinals at Jomo Kenyatta Stadium, in Kisumu.
The side, which is coached by Salim Babu, qualified for the knockout stages after coming out unscathed in their Group A preliminary matches against Sudan, Rwanda and Somalia.
Kenya scored 10 goals to cap their dominance in attack, while only conceding one goal, showcasing their solid defense being marshalled by former St Anthony’s Boys Kitale defender Amos Wamalwa, who is also the team captain.
Speaking ahead of today’s 2:30pm match in the Lakeside City, Junior Stars tactician Babu said they are up for the challenge and urged his boys to forget about the group stage and focus on what’s at hand.
Kenya thumped Sudan 5-0 and Somalia 4-1 in addition to their narrow 1-0 win over Rwanda, victories Babu believes might make the boys feel unbeatable and overconfident.
“It was a very good run for us during the group stages but we have to put that behind ahead of today’s match. The focus is on the semis now and we have to show that we can play high intense games where it’s a do or die situation," he said.
“We have had good rest and training sessions that have helped us in recovery and now we must play even better against Tanzania because they are equally a tough side,” added the former Nzoia Sugar coach.
While Kenya got to the semis due to their huge wins, Tanzania on the other hand are in the last four due to their discipline.
In Group B, where Tanzania and Zanzibar both concluded the stage with equal points and goal statistics, the Fair Play rule emerged as the deciding factor—a rare occurrence in football where a team's progress is significantly influenced by its disciplinary record.
Tanzania secured safe passage over Zanzibar due to their superior disciplinary record, having garnered fewer cautions during the group stage.
This decision, grounded in regulation 3.6 of the tournament rules, highlights the significance of maintaining composure and discipline in competitive football.
The regulation outlines that teams are ranked based on various criteria, including points, head-to-head records, goal difference, goals scored, and notably, fair play.
The evaluation for fair play involves considering the number of yellow and red cards received. In this particular case, Tanzania's commendable on-field discipline, with only four cautions compared to Zanzibar's five, emerged as the pivotal tiebreaker.
Tanzania had defeated Uganda 1-0 before drawing 1-1 with Zanzibar to amass four points same as their neighbors. They, however, lost 2-1 to South Sudan.
Uganda, who topped Group B with six points, will face off against Rwanda who finished runner-up in Group A.