Cecafa must change knock-out format

It was mission clinically executed as Uganda won their unprecedented 14th Cecafa title, also Cranes coach Micho Sredojevic’s first ever, last weekend.

It is, however, difficult to say the same for organisers of the Dtsv Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup, held in Ethiopian cities of Addis Ababa and Awassa.

Even with the beautiful images broadcast on SuperSport, where plenty of talent showcased their aptitude the manner in which organisers floundered on basics just baffles. Here, we had a tournament where teams played ‘return legs’, and an event where last group matches were played on different days and times. No, you are not mad. Neither am I.

I’m also just trying to make sense of Cecafa’s format that had Tanzania versus Ethiopia, and South Sudan against Sudan, face off in the quarterfinals immediately after clashing in the same respective group. Who does that?

Cecafa do just that. They did the same in the 2013 quarterfinals in Nairobi where Group B leaders Zambia faced best third-placed Burundi even before the grass had recovered from the two teams’ group stage clash.

The equivalent happened a year before, in Kampala, where Uganda and Ethiopia clashed in the quarters immediately after meeting in the group. At times only Nicholas Musonye, the Cecafa general secretary, who reads groups and fixtures to the media as his version of draws, understands his things. Actually, most times. Certain things needed to meet minimum standards are so basic but Cecafa, somehow, always manage to put one step forward and five back. Some have blamed broadcast sponsors, SuperSport, for dictating fixtures that had last group matches played on different days and times, a felony that presents the highest degree of incompetence.

Yet with the same broadcast sponsors in Kampala and Nairobi in 2012 and 2013, we still had the final group matches played on the same days and times. Back to the same teams colliding immediately after group encounters, there is no avoiding similar scenarios in future – perhaps only accidentally - for as long as the format remains the same. One way or another, one or two group winners are bound to clash with a two best third-placed teams after the group stage.

What it should be

The first way that could be avoided is if Cecafa assembled all their 12 members and perhaps invited four guests to make 16, and then set them up in four groups of four teams each. That way, the top two automatically make the quarters and you are saved all the embarrassing ambiguity. But with the intricacy of having four guest teams, that may prove tough.

The other way, the most workable one, is to invite two guests to make 14 teams. Then give the best six Fifa-ranked countries a bye to the quarterfinals and seed them in fours, something akin to Cosafa’s format. Of the remaining lower-ranked eight, also seed them and form two groups of fours, with only the two pool winners joining the other top six in the quarterfinals.

To ensure more competition, the four that do not make it to the semis can play Plate semifinals and go on to produce a champion of their own, with the other elite teams continuing their road to the main final. That way, there is more competition, and the ambiguity of having more ‘return legs’ in the first two stages of the tournament is dealt away with.

amwanguhya@ug.nationmedia.com, @TheLoveDre on Twitter