Cecil Odongo – Rising Stars’ dream of participating in the 2021 Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations came to a sudden halt on Monday after the team lost 3-1 to traditional rivals Uganda in the first semi-final of Cecafa Under-20 Championship.
The encounter was held at the Black Rhino Academy in Karatu, Arusha with another tie between defending champions Tanzania and South Sudan being played at the same venue from 3pm.
Nineteen-year-old Kenneth Semakula put Uganda Hippos ahead in the 22nd minute, before Ivan Bogere hit a brace in the 25th and 63rd minutes. Rising Stars’ consolation goal was netted by Enock Wanyama 10 minutes to the end.
The defeat means Rising Stars will play the loser of the other semi in the third-place playoff on Wednesday before the winner of the match meets Uganda in the finals of this year’s edition.
Uganda and the winner of the second semi will qualify for the continental finals set for Mauritania.
A dejected Rising Stars captain Nicholas Omondi acknowledged that Uganda outplayed them and they have now to focus on finishing third.
“We have to keep our heads high and fight for a third place finish. We have just missed out on the Africa Cup of Nations which was our main target and everyone feels disappointed. This is football, we have to keep focus ahead of our final match on Wednesday and I believe we can manage a better result next time in this competing,” said Omondi.
He conceded that Uganda won the battle in the midfield and that is why Rising Stars defenders couldn’t keep up with the pace of the Hippos’ speedy wingers.
“We failed to counter them from the midfield and some small defensive errors cost us. It is sad we haven’t managed to improve on last year’s performance, but hopefully next time we shall do better,” he added.
Coach Stanley Okumbi made one change in the squad with Wanyama, who started from the bench in 2-1 win against Sudan, handed a starting role.