AT least the Mainland Tanzania is rest assured that the CECAFA Kagame Cup will for the second-year running stay in the country as holders Young Africans and Azam FC face off in the final at the National Stadium on Saturday.
Yanga moved a step closer to retaining the crown after they beat Rwandan champions APR 1-0 in the closely fought second semi-final of the regional club championship at the National Stadium on Thursday, while Azam FC sent guest side AS Vita of DR Congo packing with a 2-1 victory.
Ugandan-born striker Hamis Kiiza scored the lone goal for Yanga in the 99th minute of extra time, cleverly finishing off Haruna Niyonzima's whipped delivery from the right in the 99th minute. Kiiza scored the lone goal of the game when defenders Donatien Tuyizere and Mbuyu Twite were left arguing with Yanga striker Said Bahanuz who had claimed to have been fouled on the left back as play continued.
Azam FC, meanwhile, reached the Kagame Cup final in their maiden year when they came from behind to beat 10-man AS Vita of DR Congo 2-1 in an entertaining semifinal match that kicked off at 2:00pm at the same venue. John Bocco scored his fourth goal of the tournament in 67th minute to cancel out Alfred M'Fongang 34th minute strike, but there was still time for substitute Mrisho Ngassa to score the winner a minute before the final whistle.
And, Saturday's match promises to be a cut throat. It will bring back bad memories when the two sides last clashed in the Mainland Premier League, in which fracas ensured and several Yanga players were given marching orders. In one of the most disturbing top flight incidents in recent years, Yanga players' instigated a brawl with a referee, which eventually led a violent attack on Israel Nkongo Mujuni, during the league match on March 10.
Yanga lost 3-1. Four players, defenders Stephano Mwasika, Nadir Haroub, midfielder Omega Seme and striker Jerryson Tegete, received a variety of bans from TFF League Committee for roughing up referee.
The reason for the violent attack emerged because Yanga players were upset by what they deemed to be harsh sending off of their key player Haruna Niyonzima for a second bookable offence midway through the first half.
The federation's Reconciliation and Disciplinary Committee later revoked the decision to ban the four players for what it was claimed that the League Committee had no mandate to ban the players. The rest is now history and in run up to today's final encounter, both Yanga and Azam FC coaches have predicted tough encounter.
Yanga head coach Tom Saintfiet has praised the resilience of his players who fought tooth and nail to edge out Rwandese champions APR in a gruelling semifinal battle. Saintfiet who is barely a month old in the club was full of praise of the playing squad whom he described as committed and had special mention for Hamisi Kiiza who scored the winner.
He ,however, rued the fact that most of his players are fatigued after a gruelling five matches in less than two weeks.
"I am more than happy to qualify for the finals though it was a tough match and APR gave us a torrid time but I am glad my players remained composed and dealt with all the pressure to inflict the last minute blow on APR. Many of my players like Kiiza, Bahanuzi and even Haruna are tired and I just hope they can recover well before the final which will be equally very difficult," Saintfiet said.
Azam FC coach Stewart Hall was equally adamant that his side has a chance of carting home with the regional trophy. Hall stressed the importance of containing the lethal duo of Hamisi Kiiza and Said Bahanuzi who have scored nine goals between them in the tourney. Azam's Ivorian import Kipre Tcheche recognizes the "beautiful opportunity" the match presents.
"We have to put pressure on our opponents and our aim is not to defend all the time. We won't do that against the Kagame Cup defending champions," said Kipre. A victory would ensure Yanga get the coveted trophy back to back for the first time in the tournament's history while for Azam a victory will be a milestone achievement for the team that was formed barely five years ago.