The New Times (Kigali)

East Africa: Cranes Remain the Team to Beat

ONCE the curtains fall, teams will be trying hard to settle their rivalries on the pitch in the two-week 12-nation tournament CECAFA Tusker Senior Challenge Cup, the continents' oldest regional championships. Twelve nations will compete in this year's tournament.

Fans of all the 12 teams will either be in high spirits or disillusioned and it is this tone of feeling that makes the tournament fascinating.

This year's event, to be hosted by all time record winners Uganda, will be attention-grabbing.

Here is a preview of all teams, starting with the record winners in this first part.

Uganda Cranes

Champions a record 12 times, and 4 times runners up.

The animosity of not qualifying for the Nations Cup and an all-too-brief last appearance over 30 decades ago, coach Bobby Williamson has anger and to soothe down he needs to retain this trophy as much as anything.

His team is a power house in the region. Honestly, the Cranes should find few problems defending their title. They are in a really good position as the Scottish coach tries out players from the U-20 and U-23 sides like Dan Sserunkuuma.

Uganda Cranes always seem to find themselves in the latter stages and I have no doubt this tournament will be no different; Williamson plans to include a pool of few senior players like Robert Ssentongo, Hamis Kiiza, and Geoffrey Massa.

In last year's final against Rwanda's Amavubi Stars, Williamson showed he can be shrewd with his tactics when he pulled off Mike Serumaga, who played behind main striker Emma Okwi for Hamis Kiiza and Moses Oloya for Dan Wagaluka on the right wing plus Patrick Ochan for Musa Mudde.

The Scottish has plenty of options, Martin Kayongo-Mutumba, Sula Matovu; players like Isaac Isinde, Geoffrey Walusimbi and captain Masaba are clued-up in defense.

Kenya Harambe Stars

They've won the championships five times and 4 times as runners up.

The hostility between Cecafa Secretary General Nicholas Musonye and Kenyan football federation 'KFF' over hosting the competition saw the Harambee Stars threatening to boycott.

It will be a sweet revenge when they meet Cranes in the group of death, Group A. Kenya's 55-year old tactician Henri Michel will be under scrutiny, especially having lost the friendly against Tanzania last week and his recent lambast of CECAFA Cup terming it "useless".

The Frenchman is no stranger to the African football having coached Moroccan, Tunisian, Cote D'Iviore national teams and clubs like Raja De Casablanca, Zamalek and Sundown. Harambee Stars will take the Group A battle to the wire.

Ethiopia

Four time winners: The Walya Antelopes would be among the favorites had they not opted to field a development side. I am torn between them and the Cranes to win the title. They qualified for the 2013African Cup of Nations after a 31 year absence.

Unless head coach Sewnet Bishaw knows something special about his makeshift team that the outside world doesn't, he will find it hard to compete against teams that are coming to win the tournament and not just participating. In 2005, they beat Amavubi 1-0 in the final at Amahoro stadium.

Players to watch out will be Saladin Said, Adane Girma, G. Kebede and Captain Degu Debebe.

In the second part, we shall look at the prospects of the remaining teams.

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