Afcon provides revival time for football in East Africa

Harambee Stars Michael Kibwage in action during National Team training session for Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers Group D match against Ghana in February at Kenya School of Monetary Studies, Nairobi. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NMG

What you need to know:

  • Gor Mahia are moving closer to repeating the 1989 heroics when they won the then Cup Winners Cup.

Four East African countries have qualified for the African Cup of Nations tournament to be held in Egypt in a year that marks renewed hope for the region coupled by a successful run in club matches.

Uganda topped its pool while Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi all qualified as runners-up as the Confederation of African Football (CAF) increased participating teams from 16 to 24 this year.

The last time the region had flag-bearers at Africa’s biggest football bonanza was in 2004 when Kenya and Rwanda played in Tunisia. They both exited at the group stage.

This is the first time that four East African nations are playing in the same Afcon edition laying the foundation for greater years ahead for the region barring political interference.

As the national teams basks in the Afcon glory, two of the region’s most popular and successful clubs are in the last eight of the CAF Champions League and the Confederations Cup.

Kenyan Champions Gor Mahia will play Morocco’s RSB Berkane in the CAF Confederations Cup quarter finals while Simba take on Democratic Republic of Congo powerhouse TP Mazembe in the last eight of Africa’s premier club competition.

Just like their national teams, the two clubs defied odds and are now within striking distance of CAF glory besides winnings millions of shillings in cash rewards for their efforts.

While the region has for years been the continent’s whipping boys in both club and national team competitions, 2019 marks a return to the summit of the game.

It is a platform to lay a firm foundation for greater strides like the Qatar FIFA World Cup in three years’ time.

Uganda is making its second appearance in history while Tanzania is the first time since 1980. Burundi, led by Stoke City striker Saido Berahino will play in their first-ever edition.

A strong showing in Egypt that will, however, be determined by Kenya’s opponents at the draw to be held next week will improve the country’s rankings and offers that once-in-a-while opportunity for African talents to the lucrative European leagues such as Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga.

It is no secret that scouts from top clubs in Europe will flock Egypt from June to July in search of talent. Afcon is the fitting opportunity for East Africa’s soccer talents to showcase their prowess to the world.

1989 heroics

Despite tough clashes in the CAF club competitions, Gor Mahia are moving closer to repeating the 1989 heroics when they won the then Cup Winners Cup.

Just like other Maghreb giants, RSB Berkane pose a stern test to Kenya’s most successful club. This is the first time in three decades that the club is once again at the knock-out phase of continental cup.

While an upset against the Moroccan side will have the fans buzzing, players will draw the attention of some of the continent’s best sides who will come for their signatures.

Simba is facing the toughest test and the away match in Lubumbashi will test the Tanzanian side’s grit in Africa’s most prestigious club tourney.

With four flag-bearers at the Afcon and two clubs in the last eight of club competitions, East Africa (the oldest regional soccer body in the continent) is rubbing shoulders with Africa’s best. It can only get better.

In the words of Cecafa chief Nicholas Musonye, “Qualifying is not enough, I challenge them to go out there and make a statement. East African region has enough talent to compete with other regions in Africa.”

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.