One of Africa’s oldest competitions, the CECAFA Cup kick offs this week in the Tanzanian port capital of Dar es Salaam. The tournament sees CECAFA member nations; including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zanzibar, Sudan, Burundi, Djibouti, Somalia and Eritrea battle it out for the CECAFA Cup and regional ‘bragging rights’.

With most of the competing countries yet again failing to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations (only Sudan will ‘represent’ the region at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea) the tournament also gives East African nations an opportunity to develop their national teams’ setups.

As more and more of East Africa’s most talented players spread their wings abroad; to Scandinavia, Asia and Eastern Europe, the tournament has, over the past few years, taken on a more youthful look. In this year’s edition a large majority of the players we will see were representing their countries at Under 20, or in some cases Under 17 level, this time last year.

In addition to giving youth an opportunity, the competition provides coaches with more time to mould and shape their national team’s philosophy and system of play.

So with most nations sending squads made up of unknown youth players it begs the question; which players should we be watching out for in this years competition? Some of the best East African football journalists and Tweeters have given the names of players they expect will stand out, and I’ve complied my own lists, short bio and graphs to fill in the gaps.

UGANDA 

@TheLoveDre

Abbey Dhaira (Goalkeeper) – despite being number one for his Icelandic club side IBV, Abbey usually finds himself warming the bench for the Uganda Cranes. With first choice goalkeeper Denis Onyango now unavailable, Abbey finally has his chance. Still only twenty four, but he has been an ever-present member of Bobby Williamson’s squads.

Mike Mutyaba (Midfielder) – Currently turning heads in the Uganda Super League (USL) with Bunamwaya. Mike made two impressive substitute appearances for Uganda at the recent LG Cup. A slight, right footed attacking midfielder with an excellent skill set, capable of playing across the attacking line of three in a 4-2-3-1. Pacy and direct, Mike is definitely a player to watch out for.

Moses Oloya (Winger/Forward) – Plying his trade in Vietnam with Saigon Xuan Thanh F.C. Moses is a stocky right winger with a good turn of pace and eye for goal. His ability to make effect runs beyond the forward line could be useful to the way Uganda operate going forward.

Emma Okwi (Striker) – Has been in sparkling form for his club and current Tanzania Premier League (TPL) leaders Simba. But Emma failed to shine in the recent LG Cup and drew criticism for what was deemed a lethargic outing for the young striker. With lead forward Brian Umony now unlikely to feature, Bobby could well turn to Emma as his loan striker in a 4-2-3-1. Emma does his best work front to goal, and will need to work on his effectiveness with his back to goal if he is going to combine with midfielder runners and help lead the Cranes to CECAFA Cup success.

KENYA

@Claudshavin

Jamal Mohammed ‘Malo Malo’ (Midfielder) – A gifted midfielder with an excellent range of passing, albeit a bit of a showboater. Can frustrate and amaze in equal measures but the twenty six year old is an undoubted talent. If he doesn’t entertain on the pitch then he certainly will off it!

@MichKatami

Brian Mandela (Defender): The new kid in Kenya’s defensive block. A promising, solid and dependable centre back. Brian’s form has been one of the main reasons why club side Tusker FC have the best defensive record in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) this season and look set to clinch the title on Saturday.

Kevin Kimani (Winger): Has been in outstanding form for Mathare United of late, scored two and assisting the other in a 3-3 draw with Western Stima. What Kimani lacks in pace he makes up for with an array of stepovers and outstanding delivery from wide areas. Opposition goalkeepers would best be advised to sort out decent defensive walls when Kevin’s around; he’s a bit of a dead ball specialist.

Humphrey Mieno (Midfielder) – A midfield kingpin for Kenyan side Sofapaka, Humphrey is an energetic midfielder with excellent awareness of space and range of passing. Was set to join Tunisian side Club Africain earlier this year before the move fell through.

Stephen Waruru (Forward) – Scored twelve goals for reigning KPL champions Ulinzi Stars this season. He’s a speedy, technically competent, forward who’s effective anywhere along a front three in a 4-3-3. Another forward who does his best work when facing goal.

Paul Were (Forward/Winger) -The erratic genius. The powerful left winger is prone to moment of brilliance, mixed with moment of… nothingness. Paul’s been in good form for Tusker this season and took his chance when Harambee Stars coach Francis Kimanzi surprised many by starting him against Seychelles in a recent World Cup 2014 pre-qualifier. Has shown signs of maturity in recent months and it’ll be interesting to see if Kimanzi can get the best out of him in Tanzania.

@BrainlessBull 

Eric Masika (Defender) – Despite the ever-present off field drama that surrounds Eric’s club side Gor Mahia, he has been one of their most consistent performers this season. A quick, technically solid centre back who’s excellent passing over distance should give Kenya a direct route out of defence.

TANZANIA 

Mbwana Samata (Striker) – The nineteen year old striker joined African giants TP Mazembe earlier in the year and has already made an impression with the four time African Campions League winners. Predominantly a right footed striker you’ll see Mbwana drifts into wide areas, particularly on the left before cutting in on the angle.

Erasto Nyoni (Defender/Midfielder) – A vital cog in the defensive rock that is Azam FC, a side with the joint meanest defence in the TPL. A product of the Rolling Stones Academy in Arusha, the now twenty three year old can operate as a centre back, central midfielder or full back (although he’s usually deployed as a midfielder for Tanzania’s Taifa Stars). Erasto reads the game very well, has a good range of passing and will likely be the man who sets the Taifa Stars tempo in the CECAFA Cup.

Mrisho Ngassa (Winger) – Became one of the TPL’s most expensive players of all time when he moved from Yanga to Azam FC. A speedy winger with a low centre of gravity who can operate on either flank, a surprisingly good deliverer of the ball, but can struggle with his decision making. Some Manchester United fans may be familiar with him after he made a fleeting 15 minutes appearance against Man Utd for the Seattle Sounders whilst on trial in the Emerald City earlier in the year.

RWANDA 

Olivier Karekezi (Forward/Winger) – Now in his late twenties, Oliver Karekezi is a vastly experienced Rwandan international. After successful spells in Sweden and Norway, Oliver returned to the Rwandan Primus League with current champions and boyhood club APR FC. Not the quickest player off the mark but makes up for it with a solid skill set and good vision. Can operate anywhere across a front three or behind a main striker.

Emery Bayisenge (Defender) – Was part of the Rwanda Under 17’s that surprised many in reaching the Under 17 World Cup in Mexico earlier this year. The teenage centre back is yet to pick up a professional contract as he continues to develop in the Rwandan Football Federations (FERWAFA) Academy. His performances in Mexico highlighted how well the young centre back reads the game and his timing in the challenge is excellent. The areas of concern for him in the CECAFA Cup will be his tendency to mark tight and his slight of build which could see him turned easily by stronger and more experienced international strikers.

Andrew Buteera (Midfielder) – Another member of the Rwanda Under 17 team, Andrew currently plies his trade in the USL with Proline FC. Has an outstanding first touch and a good range of passing. His decision making can be laboured at times meaning he struggles in confined midfield scenarios. Despite this he was the most impressive member of the Rwandan Under 17 World Cup team.

Charles Tibinagana (Forward/Winger) – The tricky winger who could find himself supporting Karekezi in a front three for Rwanda. The teenage Proline FC winger drew many plaudits for his performances in the Africa Under 17 Championship which saw hosts Rwanda finish second. He’s a direct and confident winger who operates best down the flanks.

BURUNDI

Faty Papy (Midfielder) – hailed as the ‘saviour’ of Burundi football at the tender age of 15 when he signed for Turkish giants Trabzonspor. Not surprisingly, considering the pressure heaped onto the teenager, Faty failed to settle in Turkey and after failing to make a single appearance for Trabzonspor moved on loan to Dutch side MVV in 2009. Despite a good season in Holland, Faty was released by Trabzonspor at the end of last season prompting a return to Africa. The beneficiaries; APR FC of Rwanda. Now 21 the graceful central midfielder will hopefully be allowed to develop in a more familiar environment, under less pressure. The CECAFA Cup could be the right tournament, at the right time, for Faty Papy.

ETHIOPIA 

Saladin Said (Striker) – Scored five goals in a single game for previous club St George against Ports FC in the CECAFA Kagame Club Cup earlier this year. The twenty three year old’s impressive performances in said competition earned him a move to Egyptian side Eadi Degla, in the process the Egyptian club made Saladin the most expensive Ethiopian footballer of all time. He’s not the quickest striker, but comes alive in the 18 yard box.

Abebaw Butako (Defender/Midfielder) – Versatile defensive player who can operate as a centre back or as a deep lying midfielder. He’s a pretty tasty free kick taker as well.

Umed Ukri (Forward, via @AdilG) -Umed was Ethiopia’s stand out performer in the 2010 CECAFA Cup, a technically gifted forward who works best just off a main striker. His awareness of space between defensive and midfield lines is excellent and will likely be Ethiopia’s attacking conduit.

SUDAN

Haitham Mustafa (Midfielder) – The old timer in Sudan’s midfield, now 34, captain Haitham Mustafa is the heartbeat of the Sudanese side and has played close to 120 games for the Falcons of Jediane. Despite his slight stature Haitham is a fiery character more than capable of sweeping up in front of his back four with force. Has a rather limited range or passing but he knows his limitations and plays to his strengths.

Mudathir El Tahir (Forward) – one of Sudan’s more flamboyant players, operates behind a front striker and at his best drifting wide and cutting in on the diagonal. El Tahir plays his club football in Sudan with Al Hilal, still only twenty three with bags of potential.

You can follow events as they unfold at the CECAFA Cup by following the Tweeters above or saving the hashtag #CECAFA2011