Kenya's Harambee Stars quest to end a decade long wait to be crowned regional champions begins today as they face hosts and defending champions Uganda Cranes in the Cecafa Tusker Senior Challenge Cup opener at Kampala's Nelson Mandela Stadium in Namboole.
Stars uphill task has even been made harder after they were forced to take a largely second string side to the regional tournament as head coach Henry Michel remained with a large pool of players who would have ordinarily featured in the annual end of year showpiece.
Coach James Nandwa has also had to contend with the withdrawals of Allan Wanga and Joseph Shikokoti but he is nevertheless confident that his charges will do him proud in the tourney which Kenya last won in 2002 under coach Jacob 'Ghost' Mulee.
"I have confidence that the players called up to the team will be equal to the task ahead. We will take a step at a time and our first target is to reach the knockout phase," said Nandwa.
Cranes have recently been a thorn in the flesh for Stars but Nandwa and his men will take comfort from the fact that the last time the two sides met at the venue last year, it was do-or-die encounter that the Ugandans failed to win thus ending their hopes of reaching the African Cup of Nations then.
Nandwa will call upon the experience of Anthony Kimani and Joakins Atudo to watch over the Kenyan defence against the deadly trio of Emmanuel Okwi, Dan Wagaluka and Hamisi Kiiza. Up front, Stars will look up to Mike Barasa to provide the goals and the AFC Leopards front man will be supported by either his team-mate Victor Ochieng or Gor Mahia's Edwin Lavatsa.
It is in the midfield that Kenya will have to be more weary with Sofapaka duo Humphrey Mieno and Anthony 'Muki' Kimani shouldering the burden of providing ammunition to the Stars attack while ensuring the Ugandans do not provide Okwi, Kiiza or Wagaluka with perfect balls. Ethiopia and South Sudan--the two other teams in the group--will get the tournament underway in the first match of the double header.
Stars squad: Goalkeepers: Duncan Ochieng (Sofapaka), Martin Musalia (Mathare United); Defenders: Anthony Kimani (Mathare United), David Owino (Gor Mahia), Abdalla Juma, Thomas Wanyama (Sofapaka), Joakins Atudo, David Ochieng (Tusker); Midfielders: Humphrey Mieno, Anthony Kimani (Sofapaka) Paul Were, Bernard Mangoli (AFC Leopards), Clifton Miheso (Thika United), Kevin Omondi, Rama Salim (Gor Mahia), Patila Omoto (Kariobangi Sharks): Strikers: Mike Baraza, Victor Ochieng (AFC Leopards), Edwin Lavatsa (Gor Mahia) and Enock Agwanda (Sony Sugar).
Group A: Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan; Group
B: Tanzania, Sudan, Burundi, Somalia; Group
C: Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Malawi.