Eritrea revels in CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup history

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The last time Eritrea played in the semi-finals of the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup, 90% of the current members of their squad were not even born. The Red Sea Boys have made history by qualifying for the semi-final of the 2019 showpiece for the first time since 1994.

Not only have they shown that they are a team growing in stature, but they have shown willingness to compete especially after returning to the regional competition for the first time since 2012, coincidentally when the tournament was also held in Uganda.

“I think for us this is something huge for Eritrean football. We have not been in this competition for so many years and now we are back and we have taken such a result against very good teams. It has been a good experience so far and everyone in the team and back at home is pleased with us,” Head coach Efrem Haile told CAFOnline.

We went for the Under-20 championship and we did well. I took most of the players from the under-20 team and brought them here, that is why we have success. Efrem Haile, Eritrea coach

The tactician says the success this season, where the junior side also reached the last four of the CECAFA Under-20 Championship is the fruit of a seed planted at the beginning of the year.

“We started a process to try and rebuild the team and we had an insistence to have young players. We had a good foundation and we scouted from around Eritrea for the best young talent. They have been training constantly,” he explains.

He adds; “We went for the Under-20 championship and we did well. I took most of the players from the under-20 team and brought them here, that is why we have success. We brought in a few experienced players to help in but the foundation is with under-20 players,” he stated.

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Previously, Eritrea were known as the punching bags of the tournament but they have shown so far after four matches, that they have come of age. Out of four games, they have won two; against a regional strong side Burundi and against Djibouti.

They drew 0-0 with Somalia and the only defeat inflicted on them was a 2-0 loss at the hands of Uganda. The two they conceded to the Cranes are the only goals they have let in so far in the tournament. Prior to the win over Djibouti, the last time they tasted CECAFA victory was in 2007 when they beat the Shoremen of the Red Sea and Uganda by an identical 3-2 score-line.

They qualified to the quarters, but lost 2-1 to Burundi.

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“Eritrea football is growing and this is just a step in the right direction. I can promise you that there is more to come. We are working harder with the coaches of the local clubs every day to try and build the national team,” Haile added.

Skipper Robel Teklemichel was also captained the Under-20 team at the Jinja tournament believes as much and has warned anyone underrating them that they will be shocked soon.

“We are happy as a team, everyone in Eritrea is happy with what we have done so far. It is positive to see the team progress and as players we have worked hard to be here. Hopefully we can continue in this way,” noted the midfielder.

They face defending champions, Kenya’s Harambee Stars in Tuesday afternoon’s semi-final in Lugogo with the hope that their fairy tale story will not end.

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When they reached the semi in 1994, they lost 1-0 to Tanzania in the semis and went on to lose by a similar margin to hosts Kenya in the third and fourth play-off.

“We know Kenya is a very tough team and we respect them a lot. However, we have made a good plan for that game to try and counter their strong points tactically and technically. The players have belief and hopefully we can go all the way. It is our dream,” the coach opined.