Nairobi, Kenya | AFP | Zanzibar are challenging for a first Cecafa Challenge Cup title in 22 years following their impressive run to the semi-finals of the nine-nation tournament.
The competition’s surprise packages take on holders Uganda in the last four in Kisumu on Friday, knowing that victory would send them through to the final for just the second time.
“From the onset nobody gave us any chances of progressing this far in the tournament,” Zanzibar coach Hemed Suleiman said on Thursday.
“From the performance we have had in all four group matches, we have outdone our expectations.”
Zanzibar were in the same group as Tanzania, but while the mainland team suffered an early elimination, the semi-autonomous island side, which competes as part of Tanzania in CAF competitions but plays independently in this regional tournament, progressed to the semi-finals.
Star midfielder Mudathir Yahya said they were reaping the rewards of the decision to begin team preparations well ahead of time.
“Unlike in the previous competitions, this time round our players started two weeks earlier,” said Yahya, who scored the opening goal in a 3-1 defeat of Rwanda.
Suleiman could even afford to rest eight of his first-team players in their final group match — a 1-0 loss to Libya.
Despite the defeat, Suleiman is confident in the depth of his squad and is hopeful of beating Uganda, the record 14-time champions.
Uganda needed a late goal in a 1-1 draw against Ethiopia to qualify from the group stage, but interim coach Moses Basena believes his team will shake off their recent struggles.
“We have to win the game, which is a must win for us,” said Basena, who took charge of the Cranes when Serbian Milutin Sredojevic resigned in August.
“We just have to play as favourites, counter all the Zanzibari plans and win the game.”