Last updated 7 months ago | By Rodgers Eshitemi
Harambee Stars coach Francis Kimanzi has set his sights on helping the national team retain their Cecafa Senior Challenge champion status as the regional tournament kicks off in Kampala, Uganda on Saturday.
Stars, who have been in a residential camp at the Kasarani Stadium since Monday, will be seeking to defend the title they won in 2017 when they beat Zanzibar Heroes 3-2 on post-match penalties in the last edition of the tournament held in Kenya.
But even as the oldest tournament in the continent returns to Uganda after a seven-year hiatus, the organisers have been dealt a major blow following the last-minute withdrawal of guest team Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Ethiopia.
Following the trio’s pull out, the tournament will now be competed by nine teams paired into two groups and not three as earlier indicated.
The latest development has seen Sudan join Kenya, Tanzania, and Zanzibar in Group B, while hosts and record champions Uganda headline Group A alongside Burundi, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti.
The tournament has also been moved back to Kampala from Jinja.
The Senior Challenge, whose finals are set for December 19, will run concurrently with the U17 Women’s Championship (December 9-18).
Kenya will now kick off their title defence with a tie against their new-found rivals Tanzania’s Taifa Stars on Sunday, just a day after the tournament’s opener between Djibouti and Somalia followed by the fixture pitting Uganda Cranes against Burundi.
“We are looking forward to retaining the trophy we won in the 2017 Cecafa Championships,” said Kimanzi.
With the late arrival of Tusker striker Timothy Otieno and Western Stima goalkeeper Samuel Odhiambo, the dutch-trained coach says he is pleased to have a full-house at his disposal ahead of the team’s departure to Kampala tomorrow.
Odhiambo was called up as replacement for the injured Kariobangi Sharks youngster Brian Bwire.
“Everyone who was called up to the camp has reported and is training hard for the tournament,” he said.
Just like Kimanzi, AFC Leopards midfielder Whyvonne Isuza believes the team has what it takes to defend the title.
“We are preparing well for the championships and we will do our best to defend the trophy,” said Isuza.
Despite DRC, South Sudan and Ethiopia’s withdrawal, Cecafa Secretary General is confident of staging a successful tournament in Uganda.
“We wish to bring to your attention that we have knocked-out DRC, Ethiopia and South Sudan because they could not fulfil some obligations passed by the Cecafa consultative meeting in Addis Ababa early this year,” said Musonye.
“We have finalised all the arrangements to stage the two tournaments (Senior Challenge and U17 Women’s Championship) simultaneously.”