An international football tournament has just begun featuring 11 nations. All of which come from the eastern and central regions of Africa. It is unlikely to get much media coverage outside of Africa but it is a tournament that has been full of interest and intrigue over its 80 year history. Yes, that’s right, it’s 80 years old. Older than the European Championships, older than the African Cup of Nations and older than the World Cup itself. When you read through the history of the CECAFA Cup online you soon start to realise that it is a very curious competition with a rich history.
It all began in 1926 and was named after a soap company: Gossage. The first final was won by Kenya (after a replay) in Nairobi against the Ugandans. The very next year the tournament did not take place due to a hosting dispute. These sorts of political moves have blighted the competition ever since its inception. Uganda dominated the Gossage Cup (Kenya recieving the trophy picture – right) throughout the 30s and 40s even winning one final 13-1. The pattern of Ugandan or Kenyan victories continued throughout the 1960s. The 1960 final between Uganda and Kenya ended in a draw and it was decided that the two teams would own the trophy for 6 months. However, the cup went to Kenya and disappeared, only re-appearing before the 1961 tournament when Kenya regained the trophy. The only side to break the stranglehold of the Kenya/Uganda axis wasTanzania (known as Tanganyika in during the first half of the century).
It was as late as 1978 when Malawi became the first side outside of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to win the trophy with a last minute goal against Zambia. In the past 30 years the competition has bucked the trend of modern day football by becoming more and more open with Sudan, Ethiopia, Zambia and Zanzibar all winning the trophy. (Rwanda B won the Cup in 1999 defeating Kenya who had knocked out Rwanda’s A side in the semi final!)
So, a competition with a colourful history. With the 2007 edition of this competition underway I thought I’d take a look through the runners and riders in this year’s competition.
Group A includes the hosts Tanzania who have appeared in 28 CECAFA Cups in their history and hosted many of the tournaments themselves. They won the opening match of the CECAFA Cup this year with a 2-1 victory over Kenya. Kenya (pictured) are a country with an interesting history in the CECAFA Cup, they are 5 times Champions of the tournament with one win coming as recently as 2002. There’s a great story concerning the CECAFA Cup final of 1951 where Kenyan striker Omari Okumu lays the blame of their 2-1 loss down to witchcraft as every time he tried to kick the ball it “turned into snakes”. They are joined by Burundi who can boast that Shibani Nonda (previously of Blackburn Rovers) was born in the capital Bujumbura. Unfortunately for The Sparrows (I love African nation nicknames) he opted to play for the DR Congo. Somalia complete the line-up for Group A. Like Burundi they have never won a CECAFA Cup and have had very few highlights in this competition.
Group B is headed by Uganda, a country that has dominated the tournament throughout its history. They impressively defeated Kenya by 9-5 in the 1937 final and the final of 2000 was actually competed by it’s A and B side (the A side one but only after penalty kicks!). Rwanda are likely to give the Ugandans a battle for the title of Group B winners. They are one of the only countries with a pedigree outside of CECAFA having qualified for the 2004 African Cup of Nations. Despite being knocked out in the first round they did record a creditable draw against Guinea and a very good victory over DR Congo. Eritrea are a very young nation having only gained independence from Ethiopia in 2000. Their greatest footballing moment so far was holding African giants Nigeria to a goalless draw in Asmara during World Cup Qualification. Dijibuti (pictured) are undoubtedly the minnows in this group and arguably of the whole competition. In November of this year they won their first ever competitive match against Somalia and have made it through to the second stages of the qualifcation tournament where they will come up against Egypt, DR Congo and Malawi. A very difficult assignment for the islanders.
Group C and the final group contains a footballing oddity. The small state of Zanzibar is officially a part of Tanzania and is thus not allowed to compete in World Cup qualification. They instead compete in the CECAFA Cup and have put in some creditable performances throughout the years, taking home the Cup on two separate ocassions. They have also played in the FIFI World Cup (a World Cup for countries that aren’t countries – if that makes sense) and finished in 2nd place, losing in the final to North Cyprus. Group C is completed by Ethiopia and Sudan. Two of the three competitors (alongside Egypt) in the first ever African Cup of Nations in 1957. Ethiopia were winners of this cup in 2004 and 2005 so will be keen to regain it. Sudan are the current holders of the CECAFA Cup despite confusingly losing the final to Zambia last year (Zambia were a guest side so weren’t allowed to take home the trophy).
The tournament has just kicked off and the first round of games has taken place. Hosts Tanzania beat the Kenyans 2-1 in their opening match and Uganda beat Djibouti by 7 goals to 0 which is quite alarmingly the same scorline that the Ugandans beat Djibouti in the 2000 competition! Zanzibar drew with holders Sudan 2-2 and the Rwandans beat Somalia by 2 goals to 1. I’ll hopefully keep you up to date with what is happening in what I consider to be a totally fascinating tournament from East/Central Africa.