New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Cecafa - the Football Is Breathtaking

THE on-going CECAFA Tusker Challenge Cup has produced a cocktail of just about everything at Namboole Stadium for the last seven days.

Aside from the low fan presence at the games, the quality of football has been breathtaking despite being played on a pitch that has degenerated into something akin to a potato field due to heavy rains.

The tournament has brought to light the fact that there are no more 'punching bags' in world football.

Somalia and South Sudan marched into the 36th edition as the weakest of all 12 competing sides, but were eliminated from the regional showpiece as proud participants.

Although Somalia collapsed to a 5-1 defeat against Burundi, they matched their opponents for large spells and three of the five goals conceded were down to scandalous goalkeeping rather than effort.

Just to show how fast Somalia football has developed over the last months despite the insurgency back home, they returned against Sudan and almost plundered a historic goalless result but succumbed to an 86th minute goal.

How about South Sudan? For a country that had never featured in any major competition or competitive game coming into the tournament, this CECAFA edition was meant to be a learning curve.

However South Sudan played like 'Dark Horses'. They took charge of the game against Ethiopia before being knocked out by a late goal. Their display against Kenya was decent and the 2-0 defeat was clearly down to inexperience.

That said, I feel Ethiopia have been the best team so far in the tournament. Irrespective of whether they qualified yesterday or not, the Ethiopians proved just enough as to why they are East Africa's sole representatives at the 2013 Nations Cup due in South Africa next year.

Their display against the Cranes was absolutely phenomenal. And let's not forget that apart from their lead striker and captain Teffera Fikru, this was a second string Ethiopian side.

I don't think there is any doubt that they are the best side in possession of the ball around the region.

They were a pleasure to watch and it is something that the rest, including Uganda has to aspire to, because they are fast setting new standards in the game.

The striking thing about Ethiopia is that every single player seems comfortable on the ball - including the two centre-backs and the goalkeeper.

Ethiopia shares something in common with Burundi, whose captain Selemani Ndikumana has been a revelation and at the forefront of the team's attacking play.

Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania have done enough to highlight the fact that the knock-out stages that start on Monday will be no place for error or complacency.

Which brings in the question, have Cranes performed well enough to be considered finalists or winners of the lucrative competition? Maybe, maybe not! It must be said that Abbey Dhaira's injury was a massive setback for the team.

Hamza Muwonge and Ali Kimera are decent but not in the mould of the Iceland-based goalkeeper.

Cranes will approach the crucial late rounds of the tournament without a player that has good command of his back-four and reads the game well.

The Cranes have not been convincing at the back so far. What they have done is to professionally see out games.

Dennis Iguma has clearly shown he has plenty to learn as a right-back.

He lacks positional sense and needs to improve in decision making.

There is no doubt Iguma is a fine centre-back but it has nevertheless been good trying him out elsewhere.

Henry Kalungi and Isaac Isinde are a work in progress but will get better with a couple of more games.

Although Hassan Wasswa has yet to replicate the commanding display that had been characteristic of his previous outings, Godfrey Kizito and Moses Oloya continue to grow in stature.

Emmanuel Okwi has been the only disappointment so far. On a good day or tournament, Okwi is simply irresistible.

He has been a shadow of the player that rocked the previous edition with five goals. As it is, there are still opportunities to impress.

The only problem is there will not be second chances in the next knock-out stages.

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