Poulsen set to smash hoodoo

Kilimanjaro Stars head coach Jan Poulsen

Kilimanjaro Stars head coach Jan Poulsen leads his boys against Uganda into crackdown of the 36-year-old hoodoo of failing to haul the Challenge Cup title on home soil.

After scraping through hard to beat Rwandan ‘wasps’ on rainy Wednesday afternoon, Kilimanjaro Stars take on the eleven-time winners in the crucial semi-final clash at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam today.

Of the two semifinal ties, fans will be keen to follow the outcome of Kilimanjaro Stars-The Cranes encounter as the host side will be all out to win the final berth.

The 37-year-old Challenge Cup that was revived after the colonial time Gossage Cup collapsed in late 60s, has been a rare silverware for the Mainland Tanzanians with the first and only home win realised in 1974.

The Mainland side that adopted to Kilimanjaro Stars name in recent years is a team which in several occasions came close to win the title at home ground but then flopped beyond anticipation regardless of its quality players.

Uganda and Kenya have in most cases been standing between the silverware to shatter Mainland’s dream in the most brutal ways.

It was Kenya’s Harambee Stars who were beaten during the preliminary stages of the tourney in 1981, then overturned the result in the final to send shivers to the multitude of expectant spectators at the National Stadium (now Uhuru) in Dar es Salaam.

The likes of flamboyant but elegant custodian Mahmood Abbas, Mike Weche, J J Masiga, Peter Otieno, Wycliff Onyango and what have you, send a wave of disappointment to the Mainland side composed mostly of the stars who were just back from the African Nations Cup finals in Nigeria, a year before.

No body would like to remember what befell on the Mainland’s second string christened Kakakuona during the 1992 championship in Mwanza.

The energetic youngsters of the Sekilojo Chambua, Mustafa Hoza and many others lost the final at the CCM Kirumba Stadium.

Uganda The Cranes’ striker Issa Sekatawa scored the precious late goal on his way to football retirement that broke the hearts of millions of home fans who were following the match with undoubted tenacious zeal.

While the two solid shocks were experienced at the final stage of the championship, this time the Cranes are prowling right at the semi-final berth.

The Cranes have one of the biggest advantages to capitalise as they kick off today’s semi-final against their host.

The eleven-time winners have at their midst players in the likes of Emmanuel Okwiri, Dan Wagaluka and Steven Bengo, who knows strengths and weaknesses of the Mainland’s team.

It’s hard to make a clear cut demarcation which side would benefit from this players’ familiarity though the home side has an uphill task to prove the visitor’s wrong.

If FIFA ranking is anything to go by, Mainland have a rather high amplitude turbulent wave to sail through.

So far Uganda have not lost a match since the championship kicked off a fortnight ago.

Though the Bob Williamson’s side crossed the quarter-final hurdle the hard way past Zanzibar, still he had all the time in the world to rectify the discrepancies ahead of today’s battle.

However, Mainland won all their Challenge Cup silverwares past the Ugandans (1974, 1994) after nerve-jangling penalty shootouts.

It remains to be seen which side will overturn the history or maintain it as the teams get down to business this afternoon.

Stars-Cranes head-to-head Challenge Cup statistics favour the latter though not everyday is Friday.

The Cranes have so far maintained a stunning 16-match unbeaten run since winning the Challenge Cup title on home soil in the 2008 edition that ended in January last year.

Reaching the final for the Mainland side might be an easy route but Poulsen is reminded that winning the title at home has been a rare dream for 36 years.

Shaban Marijani and Syllersaid Mziray, who would be remembered for Mainland’s two Challenge Cup silverwares, are unfortunately unavailable to seek their valuable advice.

All the best Kilimanjaro Stars.

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