KENYA beat Zanzibar on post-match penalties in the thrilling Challenge Cup Final at Machakos on Sunday; a match which ended in absolute knife-edge clarifying what a hunger for international soccer there has been in the region following quarrels by football aficionado resulting in lack of Cecafa activity in 2016.
The small (10,000 capacity) Kenyatta Stadium was stretched to a breaking point and “live” images on Cecafa going out in East and Central Africa not only told the story of a passionate soccer following still existing in the region but also the critical demand for Kenya to build sports venues for its citizens.
Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto was among those cramped in a tiny VIP stand to, with the least of inhibitions, get carried away alongside his compatriots as the national team Harambee Stars sought to overcome a highly skilled, young and exciting Zanzibari team.
The clamour for Government to build sports stadiums in a country deeply steeped in top class performance (e.g. in Athletics, Rugby, Volleyball and Cricket) has been a clarion call of its citizenry. Many projects have been launched but completion is still expected in county towns of Eldoret (Uasin Gishu), Iten (Elgeyo Marakwet), Kapsabet (Nandi), Meru (Meru), Wote (Makueni) and Karatu in Gatundu South (Kiambu).
But most of the visiting six member countries of Cecafa (Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations) and guests Libya, praised Kenya’s hospitality, most especially in Machakos and in Kakamega and Kisumu.
In the Sunday Final, Kenya’s early seven minute lead incidentally was from one of their younger, fairly new and skilled players. Ovella Ochieng’ struck a superb 15 metres free kick, bending it round the bend to high into the net, leaving Zanzibari ‘keeper Mohamed Abdurahman bemused and firmly rooted to the ground.
But from then on it was a battle by the rugged Kenyans — including many veteran players such as defender Jockins Atudo, skipper Musa Mohamed, and forwards Kepha Aswani and George Odhimabo — to keep away the rampaging Zanzibaris in their second ever Challenge Cup Final. The Zanzibaris reached the 1995 Final and shockingly lifted it, beating hosts Uganda 1-0 in Kampala.
After many escapes which had the partisan home crowd on the edge and at times completely off their seats (see Deputy President in one of the pictures) the Harambee Stars would take their lead almost to conclusion but you could have felt the local agony, sheer panic and near tears when Zanzibar struck an 89th minute equaliser. Figuratively it was like being in a barbeque and one having his meat “yanked” out of his mouth just before swallowing it down.
It was Zanzibar substitute Khamis Musa Makame who would spring the “terror” for all Kenyans at the stadium and millions following on Kenya Broadcasting (KBC) television (receiving the “feed’ from Cecafa broadcast rights partners Azam TV). Khamis came at the end of a sublime rapid-fire raid by the Zanzibaris from the left flank and coolly completed a squared ball inside the box placing it at the far left right corner past a sprawling Patrick Matasi, the Kenya ‘keeper who would be conceding the first goal in five matches of the tournament.
Khamis was not done. After Masoud Juma had restored Kenya’s lead in extra-time; pouncing on a miscued goal-kick up field by the Zanzibar and a quick-fire return to make it 2-1, Khamis would complete another slap-in-the-face of Harambee Stars by getting beyond Kenya skipper and last man, Musa Mohammed, to stun the crowd with yet another equaliser.
It required a penalty shoot-out, the first in this year’s edition, to decide the champion. And the hero of the day was Kenya ‘keeper Matasi with brilliant three penalty saves (of Ahmed Seif Adeyum, Issa Dau and Mohammed Issa Banka). His counterpart Abdurahman would only save Duncan Otieno’s kick (Kenya’s second) as Harambee Stars romped home with Atudo, Wesley Onguso Arasa and substitute Samuel Onyango’s kicks. Only Mudathir Yahya Abbas and Feisal Salum Abdalla managed to beat the man-of-the-match (and man-of-the-tournament, edging out the fabulous Zanzibari midfielder Abdul-Azizi Hassan Makame) Matasi.
One of the perhaps telling blows was for Zanzibar to lose the most inspiring outfield player in the tournament, Hassan Makame through injury very early in the game. But the fact that the Zanzibaris remained competitive and a hard-nut-to-crack for Kenya told of their abilities. Coach Hemed “Morocco” Suleiman Ali is a very tactical man and has players with the right response. Making up for Hassan Makame’s exit was plain sailing and his substitutes always brought a higher gear in the play.
The Zanzibaris trademark beautiful ball possession and precise passing drew admiration and the crowd’s call for Harambee Stars’ survival was “fight”. Harambee Stars did. They had probably been warned of the very many times Kenya reached the Challenge Cup Final only to lose (seven times, including infamously at home in 1979 when they led 2-0 at the Nairobi City Stadium in the final 10 minutes only to lose 2-3 to Malawi). On Sunday there was no moment that the Harambee Stars looked naïve even with rookies Ovella Ochieng’, Dennis Nicholas Sikhayi, Onguso or Duncan Otieno on board.
The success of this year’s Challenge Cup, hastily convened by Kenya and largely by the drive of Football Kenya Federation, Kenya’s Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts (MOSCA) and the county governments of Kakamega, Machakos and Kisumu, had hope reverberating through the region that Cecafa football activity would not stall again.
Azam TV, a relatively young business in the region but already with stakes in premier league football in Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, also clearly shook up the scene instantly revitalising soccer passion in Kenya. Azam’s production and match commentary in both Kiswahili and English languages was adjudged as gripping by the millions who followed on KBC. Azam, a pay TV firm is present in Kenya and seeking to grow their market.
Sports Director Patrick Kahemele said Azam was “committed to co-operations with our sporting partners and Cecafa are key in our business in the coming two years of a contract recently signed. We want to share experiences and grow our businesses together.
“Our local (Cecafa region) sport is not hopeless. We shall be trying to make it lucrative for everyone — sportsmen and organizations — and of course Azam TV wants to be in a commercially viable venture.”
Cecafa President Dr Mutasim Gafar (of Sudan) was present in Kakamega and Machakos with, including his new instituted members of the Cecafa Executive Committee ; Vice-President Abulqani Said Arab (Somalia Football Association President), Wallace Karia (President of Tanzania Football Federation), Doris Petra (Vice-President FKF), Amiable Habimana (vice-President Burundi Football Federation).
Nicholas Musonye, the Secretary General: “Great stuff. Tournament was enjoyable to spectators, players, sponsoring partners and the great Governments of Kenya, Kakamega, Kisumu and Machakos. When people are happy and united through sport, it is lovely. I even saw very little children — some babies in fact — so happy alongside “big” people and politicians like the Deputy President of Kenya.
“People in sports administration who deny citizens this happiness when they bring squabbles and useless fights to sports and make championships not to be held are bad people. They do a lot of disservice.”
Azam TV officials said they were looking forward to Cecafa’s most immediate competition beginning early in the year; the boys Under-17 Championship in Burundi followed by the Cecafa Kagame Cup Club Championship (tentatively in Djibouti), the Women’s Championships in Uganda, Beach Championship also in Uganda, another Under-17 tournament in Tanzania and again the Challenge Cup back in Kenya in 2018.
But the Zanzibaris and even Azam TV quickly rooted for a change to the Cecafa programmed by first taking the Kagame Cup club competition to Zanzibar. The Azam Sports Director (Kahemele) said: “We have just come in and obviously we’d like to first take our production to countries easier for us to operate. For now Djibouti would be of logistical difficulties. Hopefully, from now on, we and the Cecafa Exco will be working on a calendar convenient and most considerate to both parties. For now, Zanzibar would be a wonderful idea as host. There are new businesses, including in hotels and real estate there that would be glad to partner with Cecafa and Azam.
“The Zanzibar President, Dr Ali Mohamed Shein is also very supportive of football teams in the country. Their performance at this year’s Challenge Cup was wonderful and commendable and I think President Shein was prominent in congratulating and supporting the Zanzibar heroes.”
KENYA – 18 Patrick Matasi: 2 Musa Mohammed Mayeko (captain), 5 Jockins Otieno Atudo, 11 Dennis Nicholas Sikhayi, 19 Wesley Onguso Arasa, 8 Patillah Omoto, 21 Whyvonne Isusa Kinayangi, 7 Ovella Ochieng/(20 Ernst Wendo Kisia, 79’), 12 George Odhiambo Ogutu/(6 Samuel Onyango Ouma, 87’), 3 Duncan Otieno, 9 Kepha Aswani/(10 Masoud Juma Choka, 64’)
Players not used – 1 Boniface Oluoch Otieno (gk), 23 Gabriel Andika Akhonya (gk); 22 Said Tsuma Mwambeyu, 17 Bernard Ochieng’ Oginga, 4 Charles Saramu Momanyi, 15 Wellington Ochieng’ Omondi, 13 Isaac Kipyegon, 14 Vincent Oburu Ouma, 16 Crispin Oduor Ochieng’
Coach: Paul Put (Belgium)
Scorers: 7 Ovella Ochieng’ (6’), 10 Masoud Juma Choka (97’). Penalties: (5 Jockins Otieno Atudo, 19 Wesley Onguso Arasa, 6 Samuel Onyango Ouma)
ZANZIBAR – 18 Mohamed Abdurahman: 7 Suleiman Kassim Suleiman (captain)/(20 Ahmed Seif Adeyum, 117’), 15 Ibrahim Mohamed Said, 16 Haji Mwinyi Mngwali, 13 Abdalla Salum Kheri, 8 Issa Haidari Dau, 21 Abdul-Azizi Hassan Makame/(28 Musa Khamis Makame), 10 Mohamed Issa Juma, 4 Mudathir Yahya Abbas, 17 Ibrahim Hamad Ahmada, 12 Seif Abdalla Rashid/(3 Feisal Salum Abdalla)
Players not used – 1 Ahmed Ali Suleiman (gk), 30 Nassor Salim Mrisho (gk); 2 Ibrahim Abdalla Hamad, 9 Hamad Mashamata Makame, 22 Abdul-Samad Kassim, 6 Mohamed Othman Mmanga, 14 Muhamad Suleiman Amour, 5 Abdalla Haji Shaib
Scorers: 28 Musa Khamis Makame (89’, 100’)
Coach: Hemed “Morocco” Suleiman Ali – (Zanzibar)
Referee: Abdoulkarim Twagirumukiza – (Rwanda)
Assistant ref: Theo Ndagimana – (Rwanda)
Asst ref: Tigle Belachaw – (Ethiopia)
4th official: Ring Nyier Akech Malong – (South Sudan)
Referees’ inspector: Bernard Mfubusa – (Burundi)
Match commissioner: Rogers Byamukama – (Uganda)
KENYA, Group ‘A’:
Won: Kenya 2-0 Rwanda
Drew: Kenya 0-0 Libya
Drew: Kenya 0-0 Zanzibar
Won: Kenya 1-0 Tanzania Mainland
Won: Kenya 1-0 Burundi (Semi-finals)
Won: Kenya 2-2 (3-2 penalties) Zanzibar (Final)
ZANZIBAR, Group ‘A’:
Won: Zanzibar 3-1 Rwanda
Won: Zanzibar 2-1 Tanzania Mainland
Drew: Zanzibar 0-0 Kenya
Lost: Zanzibar 0-1 Libya
Won: Zanzibar 1-2 Zanzibar (Semi-finals)
Lost: Kenya 2-2 Zanzibar (3-2 pen)
-Additional reporting by Correspondents