Cecafa Cup: Uganda beats Ethiopia to set up Rwanda final

By Joseph Kizza

Farouk Miya scored the winning penalty as Uganda produced a resilient performance to secure a spot in the final of the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup 2015 – at the expense of hosts Ethiopia – in a pulsating encounter on Thursday.

The game was forced into extra time after 90 minutes produced no winner. And with the additional half-an-hour of play producing no desired effect, save for a disallowed Uganda goal for offside late on, focus ultimately turned on one end of the pitch as a penalty shootout decided the tense tie.

It all now comes down to Saturday, when The Cranes face Rwanda, who beat Sudan in a dramatic semifinal played earlier in the day – an encounter also decided in a manner all too familiar in the knockout phase of this edition: penalties.Uganda Cranes pray after beating Ethiopia to storm CECAFA finals. Photo/Norman KatendeSo, can Uganda, the tournament’s most successful nation, make it a record 14th title or will the Amavubi Stars deny them that fete and instead claim their 2nd?

For now, The Cranes coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojević says his side will keep it cool and prepare well to face Rwanda, with also minimal celebration over their triumph over the hosts. Clearly, the 46-year-old Serbian tactician wants his boys to remain focused.

But to reach the very end of this tournament, the Ugandans had to face a tough opponent that also relished the backing of an ubiquitous home voice.

Under seemingly hot early evening weather, a fully-packed Addis Ababa Stadium provided nothing less than an electric atmosphere perfect for an encounter between the home side and the record title holders.

The Walias were chasing a fifth title while their more illustrious regional opponents, who have climbed five places in the FIFA world rankings to 63rd place, had title number 14 in their sights.

You could sense so much promise of an enthralling encounter right from the time the two sides emerged from the dugout, all the way to that moment when, after the official formalities were done, Burundian referee Eric Gasinzirwa blew his whistle to signal kickoff.

Uganda started the brighter side, dictating a high tempo that saw the Ethiopians take a while a settle into play. Frank Kalanda, who scored that all-important goal against Burundi in the preliminary stage, announced his presence early with a weak effort that whistled wide.

And when the game evolved into an end-to-end showpiece, the Walias had some cute exchanges that ended with Elias Mamo’s tame execution.

The course of the game should have veered a lot earlier – in the 12th minute – when Ugandan captain Farouk Miya should have put The Cranes ahead but his heavy effort on-target from a Joseph Ochaya in-swinger was parried by goalkeeper Abel Mamo.

On the other end of the pitch moments later, an opportunity fell to Ramkel Lok who blasted his shot wide from yards out.

The Ethiopians, who won the title in 1987, 2001, 2004 and 2005, were dominant in the midfield, and with their opposition lacking creativity in that area, it was the Walias’ through runs that looked more lethal.

Their penetration through the midfield was often undone by lack of sharpness in the final third, and had to go back and defend in numbers in the 18th minute when a Ugandan corner kick caused a scramble in the box before it was eventually cleared.

What The Cranes lacked in midfield, they made up for in the wings, with Erisa Ssekisambu cutting a presence of significance and influence on the offensive right flank. On the right wing, Ochaya and Caesar Okhuti combined well to administer a lethal attacking potion to the hosts.

And while it was a highly tactical game, it was a physical one as well – although not as physical as the earlier Sudan vs Rwanda semifinal that saw both sides have a man sent off for discipline. The Cranes midfielder Ivan Ntege was the first culprit in the referee’s book when he was cautioned for bundling youngster Benayoun.

Isaac Muleme was brought on at the start of the second half in place of Kalanda, and the left-wing attacker created an earlier impact when he was clattered at the edge of the box. But skipper Miya curled the resultant free-kick over the bar.

After playing so many games in very short period of time, the two sides showed signs of exhaustion when the tempo slowed after restart.

That though did not come in the way of the attacking threat on either side. Once, Ugandan defender Denis Okot was allowed to run in and split the defence with a through-pass to Miya who succumbed to too much pressure before blasting wide.

Bernard Muwanga was booked moments before Micho introduced the fresh legs of Keziron Kizito in place of Ssekisambu to inspire more bite and creativity in the Ugandan midfield.

The Ethiopians also made changes after the hour mark, with Yishak Bereket stepping on for Mohammed Nasser. That was one change that proved troubling for The Cranes wall. Bereket’s introduction injected more pace in the Walias’ buildup.

In fact, it was troubling times for Uganda in the 73rd minute when the attacker almost got the end of a dangerous pass in the box.

Adane Girma, who was a key player for Ethiopia during the qualification of the 2013 African Cup of Nations, was substituted with 10 minutes left to fulltime.

Late on, Miya curled over another freekick just outside the box before the industrious Bereket’s effort was tipped over by goalie Watenga on the other end.

It was back-to-back traffic in extra-time with both goalkeepers being drawn into jaw-dropping saves as both sides looked for a winner.

Uganda nearly got it in the second half of extra time but Isaac Muleme’s goal, coming from a Miya interception, was disallowed for offside after a Miya interception.

And with the extra time option exhausted, Ugandan goalkeeper Watenga’s save of Ethiopia’s first penalty and Miya’s cute last take proved the difference.