By James Bakama
IT IS one of those matches where few Ugandans would stake their money.
An encounter between the Cranes and 2002 World Cup quarter finalists Senegal, is as one senior journalist put it, a foregone conclusion.
“If Senegal could come to our backyard and outplay us, what about a match at a venue where we have no home advantage?” reasoned the journalist.
However despite being away from home, the Cranes can still get a confidence boost from the fact that neither will Senegal have the usual backing of their passionate home fans.
That the 2014 Brazil World Cup qualifier will be on a neutral ground, could provide that twist of unpredictability that should make every Ugandan optimistic.
The Cranes should count themselves lucky that the match was shifted from the West African capital of Dakar to the Moroccan tourist city Marrakech.
Senegal are currently serving a home-ban imposed by world soccer governing body FIFA last year following crowd violence by their fans.
Uganda couldn’t have asked for a better North African venue. It’s here that the Cranes pulled off an impressive win over the hosts in the 2011 LG Cup.
Memories are still vivid of Michael Serumaga’s spectacular strike as the Cranes soared over the Atlas Lions before finishing second to eventual champions Cameroon. So, can the Cranes repeat their 2011 form and stop the Lions of Terranga? If Uganda’s recent form is anything to go by, then Senegal could be in for a big surprise.
After back to back Africa Cup of Nations victories over Liberia and Angola, the Cranes suffered a 3-0 loss to Egypt but there were all signs last weekend coach Micho Sredojevich’s boys had learnt their lesson when they beat Botswana 3-1 in Gabarone.
Sredojevich or Micho as the Serbian tactician is popularly known, has since taking charge of the Cranes job been positive that Uganda can make it to the big stage.
"Yes, the Cranes can qualify for the World Cup,” he said after taking over from Briton Bobby Williamson in May. Micho knows exactly what he is talking about. He is at the moment one of the longest serving foreign coaches on the continent.
His African journey started off with Ugandan giants Villa in 2001 before stretching to Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania, Sudan and Rwanda.
Striker Emma Okwi bears the huge task of ensuring that the Cranes get goals. The versatile player has so far been Micho’s talisman not only scoring in most of the matches, but also doing the spadework.
He leads an attack where he will partner with Hamis Kiiza. Playing behind this duo will be the midfield pairing of Tony Mawejje and Hassan Wasswa with Moses Oloya and Martin Mutumba on the right and left flanks respectively.
One man who should be alert throughout the 90 minutes will be goalkeeper Dennis Onyango. He will equally have to ensure that his defense line Dennis Iguma, Godfrey Walusimbi, Andy Mwesigwa and Isaac Isinde is also on its toes.
But if profiles are anything to go by, then the Cranes had better take the man sitting on the opposite bench very seriously.
Alain Giresse, a French footballer of the year in 1982, 83 and 87, is like Micho, a man who has been around African soccer for quite a while.
He is a strong advocate of attacking football, the kind of approach he employed as a midfielder at the height of his career while playing alongside legends like Michelle Platini, Jean Tigana and Luis Fernandez in the French national side.
A draw would be enough for the table leaders to advance to the final qualifier, but Senegal is the kind of team that would that would go for a win at all costs.
Dome Ndoye, Moussa and holding midfielder Mouhammed Diame are some of the players Micho should seriously watch.
Senegal’s attacking attitude that has a lot to do with pedigree. Apart from being one of the only three African countries that have reached the World Cup quarter-finals, Senegal is also a regular at the Africa Cup of Nations. They are also a regional giant.
The Lions of Terranga have won the Amilcar Cabral Cup, a regional soccer tournament for West African nations, eight times, more than any other country, with Guinea in second place with five titles.
That’s undoubtedly a very impressive profile. But that won’t shake Uganda’s resolve to register a result in Marrakech tonight.
Uganda’s determination is seen not only in the team’s meticulous preparations, but also the passion of the country.
Behind this quest for victory is non-other than President Yoweri Museveni who has chartered a plane to transport 154 fans to Marrakech to cheer the team.