8 December 2012

Uganda: Cecafa Was a Mixed Bag

Photo: New Vision
File photo:Uganda soccer fans

Kampala — The winding road of the CECAFA 2012 tournament ends today. What a journey it has been for those who have trekked along! Patchy. Bumpy. Wet. And wild!

Some of the football has been exhilarating stuff, some of the individual performances, eye catching.

There have been protests: this time not against exorbitant match tickets but against poor organisation, empty stands and agricultural pitches.

Teams like Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia did a lot to bring life to dead terraces with their Uganda based fans using the tournament as a rare chance to send messages of love and hope back home.

The ever intrusive SuperSport cameras were always there to relay their beautiful faces and dancing feet in multi coloured regalia to thousands of tournament followers beyond our borders.

If the results did not come their way, their technical and flair-filled football helped retain their pride.

Others like South Sudan, were just happy to be present. This being their first ever official international tournament, they gave their best, even though it was not good enough.

Somalia had enough appeal to lure the attentions of celebrated local coach Sam Ssimbwa, who took time off from his job at Victoria University, to offer his professional services. Even that, did not stop them from conceding goals at a canter and getting humiliated.

Eritrea always had another agenda besides the tournament - a search for greener pastures. For every game they played, they had a soaring eye at the back, in search of an opportunity to jump ship and re-locate to Uganda.

On one hand, it was about the football, on another, about their livelihood and survival.

Their disappearing act on the day they were bundled out of the tournament provided another off field drama which the tournament needed desperately to take the attention away from the pitiful site of Namboole.

The bragging rights

As always, Uganda has been bossy and pompous - defending champions, maximum points from three group matches and a comfortable quarter final passage.

As if complaints about the tournament disorganisation were not enough, a strange tournament rule pitied Uganda against Ethiopia in the quarters after playing the same team in the group stage.

Not the final or semi-final, but the first knock-out stage of the tournament, which made it look like they had played the same team twice in the group stage.

It has been the strangest of things to happen, even with the pig sty like Namboole pitch and forgettable opening ceremony still fresh in the mind. But seeing Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Zanzibar in the semi-finals has been a welcome opportunity to relive the good old days when CECAFA literally meant these four nations.

The semis and final is the remaining chance to find out whether CECAFA has moved on from the 1980s. None of the last four will be in South Africa 2013 and it remains to be seen whether the winner will maintain the same pride.

Would they exchange this trophy with a place at the AFCON finals? The answer could be the reason why Ethiopia's youngsters bowed out smiling.

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