Inaugurated in 1926 as the Gossage cup, the Council of East and Central Africa Football Association (CECAFA) Senior Challenge Cup is the oldest regional tournament in Africa competed for annually by its member associations.
It used to be a competitive tournament during the late eighties and early nineties when the likes of Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe always spiced up the competition before they moved to join the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Cup in 1993.
Winning this tournament consecutively or even dominating it like Uganda is doing now, was a rare occurrence and a tall order, to say the least, but that has since changed.
After winning it in 1977, Uganda experienced a dry spell between 1978-1988 until 1989 when a strong group of players under coach Polly Ouma together with team manager Jimmy Kirunda (RIP), broke that jinx.
Having won it in 1977 with both Ouma & Kirunda as players, Uganda was itching to recapture lost glory as the tournament headed to Kenya for its 59th edition (16th under the Challenge Cup).
Placed in the Group A which wa the group of death alongside hosts Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, it was always going to be very difficult for the Cranes to qualify from such a strong group.
To make matters worse, the Cranes lost the opening game 2-1 to Kenya with Umar Ssenoga scoring the consolation goal late in the game as Harambe Stars were enjoying a comfortable two-goal lead.
Zimbabwe was up next in a must-win situation for the Cranes as they charged for the semi-finals berth.
However, after taking the lead through Ronald Vvubya, the Southern Africa nation equalised to force a 1-1 draw to move to second behind leaders Kenya.
After two wins in their first two matches, Kenya qualified to the semi-finals leaving Zimbabwe on four points and Uganda with only one point to battle for the second slot as Tanzania was already eliminated.
Interestingly, the last group matches weren’t played concurrently, Cranes thumped Tanzania 5-1 through a Magid Musisi hat-trick aided by two further goals from Robert Aloro and Ssenoga to tentatively move second.
With such a result, all our hopes entirely depended on Kenya doing Uganda a favour by beating Zimbabwe outright as a draw would see both nations qualifying at our expense.
However, ahead of the Kenya/Zimbabwe match, rumours of how both countries were going to conspire for a draw started doing rounds to the dismay of Ugandans.
The fact that Kenya had nothing to lose having already qualified for the last four added fuel to the fire, hence few gave Cranes any chance.
However, President Daniel Arap Moi’s unexpected attendance at this match, changed the tide as the hosts battled to a 2-1 win in his presence.
Highly fancied Zambia stood in Uganda’s way at the semi-finals stage but an impressive performance saw the Cranes overcoming the KK boys 3-1 courtesy of Musisi, Ssenoga and Aloro to book a final slot in style.
By now, everything was in our hands as they prepared to face Malawi who had shocked the hosts Kenya 1-0 in the other semi-final at a fully packed Nyayo National stadium.
Come match day, Malawi went ahead first through Young Chimodzi before Paul Hasule equalised for the Cranes but two quick strikes from Chimodzi again and Daniel Dzikambane seemed to have taken the game out of Cranes reach.
At the stroke of half time, Vvubya pulled one back to restore hope for Uganda and with five minutes to full time, Sula Kato completed the come back to force the game into extra time.
It remained 3-3 after extra time as the game headed for a penalty shoot-out to determine the winner. The Cranes emerged 2-1 winners in the shoot-outs, Cranes custodian Sadiq Wassa the hero for Uganda with brilliant saves.
During the shoot-out, Musisi and Richard Mugalu converted for the Cranes as William Nkemba together with Sula Kato missed while Stephen Bogere didn’t take the fifth after Malawi failed to convert four penalties in a row.
On Malawi’s side, only Kingsley Moulidi converted as Lawrence Waya, Young Chimodzi, Felix Nyirongo and Gilbert Chirwa all missed as Sadiq Wassa did heroics in Cranes goal.
The Uganda Cranes were crowned champions after 12 years of waiting, and on return, celebrations took centre stage as Ugandans jammed Entebbe Airport and along the roads to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
How the Cranes lined up: Sadiq Wassa (GK), Paul Hasule, Richard Mugalu, Isaac Nkada, William Nkemba, George Nsimbe, Sam Ssimbwa (Twaha Kivumbi), Stephen Bogere, Magidu Musisi, Robert Aloro, Ronald Vvubya (Sula Kato)