Old foes Uganda Cranes and Mainland Tanzania clash in this year’s semi-final of the Challenge Cup championship at the Nelson Mandela Stadium in Kampala this evening.
While Mainland takes on the Cranes, another Tanzania team, Zanzibar, will also be in action against Kenya in the first semi-final also to be played at the same venue earlier in the afternoon.
Most of the fans will be focusing on what would happen between holders and twelve times winners Uganda who have been unbeaten at their own soil since 2004, save for the penalty shootouts loss to African champions Zambia two months ago.
The Cranes have been hard to beat, particularly in the Challenge Cup, and their last defeat was during the 2010 semi-final against eventual winners Mainland Tanzania at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam.
It’s hard to remember when Tanzania Mainland, or Kilimanjaro Stars as the team is known, have beaten the Cranes at their own soil in previous Challenge Cup editions.
It will be a tension packed encounter for the Uganda-Tanzania clash as the later would need to kill the jinx of not recording a victory over Ugandans in Kampala.
The Kilimanjaro Stars are in strong quest to post victory today as revenge to their 3-1 loss during the previous Challenge Cup at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam at the similar stage.
The Uganda-Tanzania matches in most cases stretch to extra time or further to penalty shootouts.
Whether home ground advantage will be the key to the hosts in keeping vigil of their 13th Challenge Cup title or brilliance of the visitors would decide the fate of the match it remains to be seen.
However, Tanzanians have been crying for fairness in today’s match as Ugandans are widely known for intimidation when it comes to matches played at their own backyard.
Unlike Tanzanians, Ugandans have always been overlooking fairness with rowdy fans intimidating visiting teams. Regardless of their team’s form or standard of soccer Ugandans would always quest for victory, it has always happened before.
The fear of losing revenue from gate collection is also another pressure that would keep the organisers to see their team sail through the final on Saturday no matter what.
People should not be surprised to see power blackouts, particularly when the home side will be trailing or notches last gasp goals.
The other semi-final would see the tournament’s surprise package Zanzibar playing without pressure against ad hoc semi-final qualifiers Kenya or Harambee Stars.
The Stars have not been playing well in the past five Challenge Cup tournaments and this year’s progression is dubbed as a unique turn of the trend.
Probably the James Nandwa trained team would like to erase the failure history and open a new chapter.
However, they play against Zanzibar, a side whose tactics in the tournament has surprised everyone and which has been winning matches that bookmakers had forecasted otherwise.
Coached by Salum Bausi, the Zanzibar Heroes, as the team is known, would like to repeat the 1995 feat when they clinched the first Challenge Cup title in Uganda.
Whether the time for repetition has come or not it remains to be seen in this afternoon’s first semi-final clash.
Zanzibar won tough matches against Rwanda and Burundi to transform their status as a team to reckon with in the East Africa’s oldest championship stretching to 39 years.
Winners of today’s semi-finals would meet in the final scheduled for Saturday at the same venue when the finalists would share a lucrative prize package to the tune of $50,000.
The losing semi-finalists would tussle for the third place classification match for a consolation cash prize of $10,000.
Zanzibar reached the semi-final of the Challenge Cup for the last time in 2009 when they lost to Uganda before claiming the $10,000 through beating blood brothers Mainland in Nairobi.
Other teams that kissed a hand of good bye from the tournament include Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and debutants South Sudan.
To cruise into the semi-finals Zanzibar beat Burundi 6-5 on penalties, Kenya chocked Malawi 1-0, Uganda saw off Ethiopia 2-0 and Mainland Tanzania trounced Rwanda 2-0.