Cecafa Women’s Championship 2018 is upon us, with Rwanda playing host from 19-27 July.
Here are the five key talking points as East African nations gather for the third edition of the Cecafa showdown.
This year’s edition has attracted five of the twelve Cecafa nations, two nations less than the 2016 edition, as Burundi and Zanzibar opted to sit this one out.
The downside of only five nations entering the ring? Fewer matches for us to feast on. Is there an upside?
Well, if we are to make hay when the African sun shines, then the upside is: it is the top five nations in the region that have entered this year’s edition.
Meaning? None of the lopsided pairings of 2016, hence mouthwatering clashes lined up from opener to final day.
There might be no minnows, but holders Tanzania and 2016 runners-up Kenya come in as slight favourites.
Both arrive with the core of their 2016 squads intact, with Tanzania’s topscorers in 2016 Asha Rashid and Stumai Abdalla making the 2018 squad.
So does the heart of Kilimanjaro Queens, veteran playmaker Mwanahamisi Omary and the reliable hands of custodian Fatuma Omary.
Reigning silver medalists Kenya arrive with their 2016 topscorer/Cecafa 2016 silver boot winner Esse Akida in the fold.
Akida’s partner up front Neddy Atieno also returns right from causing a storm in the Southern Africa’s Cosafa 2017 where Kenya was a guest nation.
The duo welcome the emerging Mwanahalima ‘Dogo’ Adam, replacing Mary Kinuthia in attack—Akida, Neddy and Kinuthia formed the most lethal attacking trio of Cecafa 2016, amassing 12 goals.
Like the two Cecafa 2016 finalists, Ethiopia arrive with a case to prove having failed at the last hurdle to qualify for the 2018 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON 2018).
Unlike the two, Ethiopia will miss the services of a few of their Cecafa 2016 stars, likes of skipper Rehima Zeraga and the tantalizing Sisaya Shitaye.
Also absent is Ethiopia’s Women’s Premier League topscorer for four successive seasons Loza Abera.
The ever-clinical Abera, who was Cecafa 2016 bronze boot winner, is away in Sweden on trials at second-tier side Kungsbacka IF.
The reigning Cecafa bronze medalists still have a shot at the title, though, as they held their own against both finalists the last time out.
Ethiopia also have in their 2018 squad a good mix of youth and experience, highlighted by the return of veteran midfielder Birtukan Gebrekirstos.
Uganda comes in as the super underdog and without their two star players in recent times: reigning Ugandan Female Footballer of the Year Fazilah Ikwaput who is on club duty abroad.
They will also miss Cecafa 2016 golden boot winner/former Ugandan Female Footballer of the Year Hasifah Nassuna set to travel to the U.S. after acquiring a scholarship at Kansas City Community College.
The Crested Cranes will have to make do without their long-serving captain Christine Wanyana as well, after she hanged her boots last year.
It will be interesting to see how the young side will fare without their star power, having grown into a formidable side under coach Faridah Bulega.
Of the five nations, Rwanda has been the least active, with their last match coming way back in Cecafa 2016 group stage.
They did prove a tough nut to crack for semifinalists Ethiopia and eventual winners Tanzania then, losing 3-2 to both.
She-Amavubi return with a good sum of their Cecafa 2016 star players as well, including likes of Ann Marie Ibangarye and captain Gloria Sifa Nibagwire, and this time round, they own the turf.
New gaffers in charge
Kenya’s David Ouma, returning to the dugout following Richard Kanyi’s short stint at the helm in 2017, is the only gaffer remaining from Cecafa 2016.
Coach Bakari Shime will be the one tasked with leading Tanzania in their quest to defend the title after taking over from Cecafa-winning coach Sebastian Nkoma.
Uganda will be under Faridah Bulega who took over from long-serving coach Majidah Nantanda last September.
Ethiopia will also have a new face in the dugout as Zeray Selam takes over from the legendary Meseret Manni.
Similar tale for the hosts who will be spearheaded by Kayiranga Jean Baptista, successor to Marie Grace Nyinawumuntu.
Should be a cracker! Matches live on Azam TV Channel Sports 2
(Azam TV app downloadable on android/iphone)