Cecafa Challenge Cup kicked off last Friday in Dar es Salaam with hosts Kilimanjaro Stars looking to defend the title that they won in difficult circumstances last year.
Then, the Stars as the Mainland’s team is affectionately known was under the tutelage of the Taifa Stars’ coach, Jan Poulsen.
This time around, two renowned local coaches Boniface Mkwasa and Jamhuri ‘Julio’ Kihwelu are taking charge of the team which represents a bold move by the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF).
Indeed, it would serve as a massive boost for local coaches if Mkwasa and Kihwelu could steer the team to glory in this regional championship.
However, as we are a long way from successfully defending our title, one has to look at the big picture which involves the region’s finest teams. Kenya for instance, who are tentatively starting a new era in their football history, have come with a rather youthful side as coach Francis Kimanzi begins to make the transition from one generation to the next.
Although this is a laudable sign of planning for the future, it also represents something of a risk as Harambee Stars have been drawn in Group ‘C’ against Sudan, Malawi and Ethiopia who all have pedigree at this level.
Indeed, qualifying from this group for the knockout stages will be an arduous task for Kenya’s boys.
As for the record champions Uganda Cranes, they are bound to be smarting from their failure to qualify for the African Nations Cup next year, which will make them dangerous opponents. This has already been evident from their first game on Friday when they outclassed Zanzibar 2-1 in their opening game of the competition.
Another game that was played on Friday featured veritable lightweights in Burundi versus Somalia with the former running out as convincing winners 4-1. Although in any other context, this would be a shameful defeat for the losers, one has to appreciate that Somalia has a lot more weighty matters on her mind than football these days.
Although we have so far discussed the title prospects of the three East African giants, it is worth remembering that they may ultimately not end up determining the outcome of this prestigious tournament.
Lloyd Elipokea is a sports