NAIROBI, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- Regional Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) Senior Challenge Cup has been dealt a blow after three senior teams opted out of this year's tournament starting on Saturday in Uganda.
Rwanda, Ethiopia, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who had expressed interest in participating in the competition, have all withdrawn leaving only nine teams to battle for the bragging rights of the oldest East and Central Africa football competition.
CECAFA Secretary General Nicholas Musonye has, however, downplayed the three teams' withdrawal saying it will not deter them from continuing with the tournament.
"The tournament will go on as planned. However, we have reviewed the fixtures," said Musonye on Thursday.
The reorganization of the fixtures will see Kenya side Harambee Stars start their campaign against Taifa Stars of Tanzania in Group B. Other teams are Sudan and Zanzibar. Group A is comprised of hosts Uganda, Burundi, Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea.
The top two teams in each group will proceed to the semifinals, slated for Tuesday, December 17, in Kampala.
However, Musonye is happy with the return of Eritrea to the international football circuit after almost ten years.
"Eritrea has confirmed that Eritrea is back. They even hosted the CECAFA Under-15 tournament in July, which acknowledged the importance of the tournament to the people of Eritrea, and the whole region," Musonye said.
Eritrea last played in a CECAFA organized tournament in Kenya back in 2013, but was barred from the 2015 championships held in Ethiopia, due to political tensions between the two nations which fought a bloody war from 1998 to 2000.
This is the first time that Uganda will host the championship since 2012, when they won by beating Kenya in the final. However, Kenya won the tournament in 2017, when it hosted it and will do everything to defend it. Kenya beat Zanzibar on post-match penalties to win.
Harambee Stars head coach Francis Kimanzi says his side will win the title.
"We are taking it seriously and looking forward to retaining the trophy we won in 2017," said Kimanzi.