Eritrea qualified to the final of the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup for the first time in their history after thrashing defending champions Kenya 4-1, and will take on hosts Uganda who went through after beating Tanzania by a solitary goal.
The final will be a repeat of the group stage match between the two sides which Uganda won 2-0.
Eritrea who are making their first appearance in the regional tournament after seven years picked the biggest win of the tournament against a much fancied Kenyan side which was hoping to defend the title they won on home soil in 2017.
Eritrea were more clinical, played with so much tactical discipline and eventually disciplined a Kenyan side that let down their guard heavily at a knockout stage.
Robel Kidane, Abel Solomon and Michel Habte scored one a piece to add on to Oscar Wamalwa’s early own goal as the Eritreans shocked the pretournament favorites whose consolation was scored by the lanky Wamalwa, now the tournament top scorer with three goals.
The Red Sea Boys went into the lead in the 20th minute when Kidane’s shot from the left after a quick start to a corner was punched to Wamalwa’s feet by keeper Samwel Odhiambo and the ball rolled across the line into the net.
With Kenya struggling to click and Eritrea out-passing them, coach Francis Kimanzi rung his first change after 27 minutes, midfielder Whyvonne Isuza coming in for Roy Okal in a bid to have more technical players in the side.
The day went from bad to worse for the Kenyans after 38 minutes when dependable winger Kevin Kimani limped off with a hamstring injury and was replaced by youngster Daniel Sakari.
Kimanzi’s men went to the break a goal down and expected to come back off the breather a better side. However, just three minutes after the restart, they found themselves trailing when Solomon struck a brilliant shot from the halfway line catching keeper Odhiambo off his line.
Kenya bid to get themselves back to the game with time on their side and they equalized four minutes later when Wamalwa tapped home after Joash Onyango’s header off a Kenneth Muguna freekick came against the bar and he reacted fastest to it.
But, it wasn’t to be for the defending champions as Eritrea increased their lead, another brilliant goal from the boys from Asmara. Substitute Habte who had not spent more than four minutes on the pitch curled the ball beyond Odhiambo and into the net.
Kidane then completed the rout with quarter of an hour left with a simple tap in after skipper Robe Teklemichel and Habte had exchanged passes sweetly on the right before playing Kidane through with an open goalmouth.
Meanwhile, Uganda were made to work hard by Tanzania before forward Fahad Bayo scored with three minutes left on the clock. Bayo headed home from close range after rising high to meet a brilliant cross from left back Mustafa Kiiza.
The lanky forward made amends after earlier on in the game missing a great chance to put the home side ahead. He was put through on goal in the 28th minute by Allan Okello, but he couldn’t beat Aishi Manula one on one with the Tanzanian shot stopper making a great stop with his feet.
However, the Tanzanian number one had to go out injured after cluttering his head against bayo’s boots as he sprawled on the ground to make the decisive save. He was replaced by Metacha Mnata.
Tanzania also had their fair share of chances, Herman Mpepo forcing keeper Charles Lukwago to a brilliant save with a shot from range.
Okello had a chance for the Ugandans at the stroke of halftime when Kevin Yondani’s clearance fell kindly on his path on the right with keeper Mnata off his line, but the youngster shot wide.
Uganda kept their search and were rewarded with just three minutes of regulation time left with Bayo scoring his second goal of the tournament.
What they said:
Eritrea coach Efrem Haile:
We had done our home work right on the Kenyan team and we knew they were a physical side, playing long balls and the best way to deal with them was by keeping the ball on the ground and closing the spaces. Everything worked and we have won by a big margin against a tough opponent.
Kenya coach Francis Kimanzi:
I must congratulate them (Eritrea). They did well and deserve to be in the final. We committed a lot of avoidable mistakes as a team and we were punished for it. Sometimes when you are chasing a game from behind you leave gaps and that is what Eritrea exploited and punished us.
Uganda coach Jonathan McKinstry:
It is always a tough match against Tanzania and today we saw how difficult they made it for us. This is the toughest match we have played so far but we had the urge to take it all the way. We played well in most instances and I am glad we won.
Tanzania coach Juma Mgunda:
It was a very difficult game and could go either way. I have no complains because we did very well and that is how football is sometimes; there has to be a winner. We put this behind and focus to try and win something on Thursday in the play-off.