Geoffrey Kizito’s header past a beaten Duncan Ochieng secured a hard fought-for victory for Uganda over Kenya in an enthralling Cecafa Tusker Cup start at Namboole Stadium on Saturday.
In a game that evoked memories of last year’s encounter, both sides started off wary of the other’s threat. Caution was the language spoken by the mind and feet of a much changed Kenyan side against Uganda’s men.
When it almost had seemed the game would end even, with plenty of goal scoring opportunities but shots flying off way over either goal stoppers, Uganda Cranes launched a massive attack on their visitors.
Deep in the second half, a foul on Denis Iguma along the right front flank resulted into a freekick by the tackle victim, meeting an unmarked Kizito who headed it past a static Ochieng into the net.
The first and only goal of the game ensured that Cranes bagged a much needed win over their neighbours and seasoned arch rivals, if history was to remain intact.
Uganda has won the Cecafa Cup a record 12 times and the Kenya’s title statistic only brings them second in the history books of the regional tournament.
That is the kind of reputation that the home team came riding on the back of against the Harambee Stars after an earlier meet of the other Group of Death teams, Ethiopia and South Sudan in which the former won 1-0.
On a warm Saturday evening, the home side kicked off to a calm start of a reminiscent encounter with the Harambee Stars at a fairly empty Namboole Stadium.
Only that this time, the Kenyan side featured unfamiliar faces under the watchful eye of Coach James Nandwa.
Despite the lackluster fashion in which the game started, the visitors checked Ugandan stopper Abbey Dhaira early with a lobbed ball but the gangly Iceland-based keeper comfortably embraced it.
Both sides looked determined to maintain a cautious approach, with players on either side weighing their opponents. But the Harambee Stars always tried to make the first move along the right front wing, with Juma Abdallah powering a spirited run but was stopped short in his tracks.
As if awakened by the early breakthroughs, the Cranes responded effectively, only that Moses Oloya’s one-two with Brian Umony was interrupted by a Kenyan opponent.
Cautious play was what either side seemed to have settled for, but that did not stop Emma Okwii from launching ambitious shots yards out – only that they flew past keeper Ochieng.
One did result into Uganda’s first corner which was effectively shoved away.
And that pressure did much to re-awaken the visiting opponents with their advancing into the other half gearing the tempo up in the first quarter of the first half.
With fans eager for a shakeup and both coaches patrolling the sidelines to and fro, something different had to be done, only for Iguma once bringing down his opponent. However, his consistence with the tackles got him a couple of warnings from the day's referee.
And there was plenty of pulling and pushing from either side, constantly keeping Burundian referee Theiry Nkurunzinza’s whistle glued to his mouth.
Sleek one-two touches and buildups gradually launched the game into a livelier encounter, but all that nature of efforts battled goal futility.
First half ended with the scoreline as it had started, the fans rather quiet and with their vuvuzelas (plastic horns) less busy than they would have wished them to be.
The game rolled on for the other side of 90 after a brief delay caused by floodlight failure. And in a visibly much changed quicker game, the Uganda Cranes asked plenty of questions, always keeping the visitors pressed back in their end.
Coach Bobby Williamson definitely must have rethought his strategy, as his players opened up more effectivlely than they had done before. They took command of the proceedings on the pitch in the opening moments of the other half.
Despite such determination from the home end, the Kenyans found their moments of praise when Abdallah Juma whizzed down the left flank, controlled the ball and lobbed it dangerously into open space but it fell on no feet. Wasted.
The coming on of Paul Were for a wiped out Miheso Clifford brought more than inspiration to the Stars. The young sensation looked ever dangerous on the left wing, not once, not twice, but quite often dancing past advancing Cranes defenders and swinging in heartstopping crosses.
But that had keeper Abbey Dhaira ever calm before he was stretchered off with a head injury not long into the second half.
After a brief on-pitch medical attention, he would not go any further into the game and was seen off and Vipers FC stopper Hamza Muwonge replaced him.
Referee Nkurunziza was forced into dishing out a few yellow cards, with Tony Kimani earning himself one for a cheeky careless foul on Okwii.
Both sides continued to show more intent for the ball and a draw of first blood. But it was the home side that achieved that first with Kizito’s brilliant header into the net, sending the home fans thundering to life.
Even with last minute attempts on goal courtesy of the visitors to atleast leave the score even, it was Williamson’s men that ended a quiet-turned-thrilling encounter at home with the last laugh.
Referee Nkurunzinza waived an open penalty when Muwonge parried an aerial ball that landed on Ugandan defender’s hand as Kenyans appealed for penalty.