KENYA has hosted four Cecafa Challenge Cup tournaments which they failed to win and they are not guaranteed beating the terrific little Zanzibar who have sensationally fought their way to the 2017 Final to take place on Sunday at Kenyatta Stadium, Machakos east of Nairobi, kick-off 3pm East African time.
The Zanzibar national team is nicknamed ‘Heroes’. They lack resources and their coming to Kenya this time was arduous many days travel; a sea boat-ride (Indian Ocean), bumpy bus trip through Tanzania Mainland to Kenya’s Coastal town of Mombasa, then up 500 kilometres to Nairobi before yet another ride to Machakos.
Not enough. For the trip to the semi-finals against Uganda in western Kenya, first a bus ride to Nairobi on Monday night before this time finally boarding a plane to Kisumu. They would fly back to Nairobi after shockingly knocking out defending champions Uganda at Moi Stadium Kisumu on Friday and then ride down to Machakos. Hopefully, the exciting Zanzibari team of young players will have rested to give their best in the Challenge Cup Final.
The Zanzibaris have earned admiration. They have caused Zanzibar President Dr Ali Mohamed Shein to take note and empathise with the never-say-die compatriots. Azam TV, the Cecafa broadcast partners said on their online platform that President Shein had promised that after the Challenge Cup Final, the Zanzibar Heroes will be transported all the way home by plane.
The President also added that the men will receive, in Kiswahili, “donge nono” (which means “fat pay cheque”), straight when the team arrives in Zanzibar.
Sunday will therefore be a battle of teams which, on top of trying to outsmart each other on the pitch, will be responding to motivational promises, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) having told the Harambee Stars players they will each get a reward of Sh180,000 ($1,800).
The gutsy islanders, who have beaten all odds to reach only their second final in the history of the competition, will be hoping to become the second team to beat Kenya in a Challenge Cup final they have hosted – after 1979 when Malawi came from 0-2 in the last 15 minutes to beat Harambee Stars 3-2 at Nairobi’s City Stadium.
Kenya cannot count themselves as lucky hosts having staged the championship six times, winning only twice (v Zimbabwe in 1983 and against Sudan in 2013) and losing that one – 1979 (to Malawi). Kenya finished third or lower in 1989, ’94 and 2009.
Kenya’s four other wins in the Final of a Challenge Cup have been away from home – 1975 in Zambia, 1981 in Tanzania, 1982 (Uganda) and 2002 (Tanzania). Statistics, therefore do not lie favourably towards a home win for Harambee Stars or winning a Final, for that matter having lost seven times –1979 (Kenya), ’85 (Zimbabwe), ’91(Uganda), ’99 (Rwanda), 2001 (Rwanda), 2008 (Uganda) and 2012 (Uganda).
Although Kenya has an overwhelming success over Zanzibar in international football, beating the islanders in 30 of previous 43 meetings, with eight drawn, five defeats for Harambee Stars at the Challenge Cup are memorable and avoiding a sixth will be the aim for the Kenyans on Sunday.
Zanzibar’s only success at a Challenge Cup Final was in 1995 when they lifted the Cup in Uganda after beating the hosts 1-0 in Kampala. The Zanzibaris’ best other outings were finishing third in 2005 (Rwanda), 2009 (Kenya) and 2012 (Uganda).
Zanzibar last beat Kenya 1-0 at Mombasa Municipal Stadium in 1999 thanks to Haji Mwinyi’s 25th minute strike. Kenya finished with ten men in that match following George Waweru’s dismissal. Kenya and Zanzibar drew 0-0 in a Group ‘A’ match in Machakos last Saturday.
Kenya coach Paul Put, the recently hired Belgian called on Kenyans get behind the team because it was not going to be an easy task going over Zanzibar. “I have told the men that this is the occasion to show the whole world their worth,” he said.
“It’s a tournament being broadcasted now it’s up to them to replicate what we’ve been doing in training in the final. Zanzibar is a good team so it’s not going to be easy.”
After eliminating 14-time champions and holders Uganda in the semi-final, coach Hemed ‘Morocco’ Suleiman Ali knows only the hosts now stands between his way their second trophy.
“We came here with an underdog tag but slowly we are gaining respect with our performances. It’s been a long time since we reached the final and we aim to win the cup because I believe we’ve competed well so far,” said ‘Morocco’.
“We are ready for the final against Kenya, a team we respect because they have a good squad in this region and boast of superb teamwork.”
The tie will be preceded by the third place playoff pitting Uganda against Burundi. Tickets go on sale on the match day at the venue at Sh500 and Sh200 for VIP and terraces respectively.
The winner will pocket Sh3 million while runners up and third finishers go home with Sh2million and Sh1 million respectively.
-Additional reporting by Correspondents