PIC: There was a huge Ugandan presence in the Nyamirambo Stadium stands on Saturday. (Photo credit: FUFA)
2018 CHAN QUALIFICATION
Saturday's final round return-leg result:
Rwanda 2 Uganda 0
First leg: Uganda 3 Rwanda 0
(Uganda advance 3-2 on aggregate)
KIGALI - Uganda held on to progress to the finals of the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) after losing 2-0 away to Rwanda on Saturday.
A healthy three-goal advantage from last week's first leg proved invaluable for The Cranes against a much improved Rwandan side that got off to a flying start on the artificial surface of the Nyamirambo Stadium pitch.
Yannick Mukunzi underlined the home side's intent by pulling one back for Rwanda as early as the 8th minute.
Thierry Manzi made it a swift second eight minutes later with a fierce header from a corner.
At this point, the Amavubi Stars were oozing as much confidence as belief but Nicholas Wadada tested their skipper keeper Eric Ndayishimye shortly after the second goal but the home goalstopper stretched to tip his long-range effort over the bar.
It was a great effort by the Ugandan defender but it did not take him long to enter Sudanese referee Hafiz Abdelghani Alamen's book for bundling the adventurous Savio Nshuti.
Nshuti gave the Ugandan back a torrid time, with his pace and industry on the flanks a constant menace to the visiting defenders.
Meanwhile, Ndayishimye was again drawn into another fine save by Moses Waiswa from yards out to gift Uganda a second corner, which did not bear much fruit.
The opening half was a rather subdued affair for the Cranes. In particular, Muzamiru Mutyaba, the scorer of two of Uganda's first-leg three goals, was largely anonymous. Fifteen minutes to the break, he let rip a goal-bound curling effort in a period dominated by the hosts, but that flew well over the bar.
Saturday's game was Uganda's interim coaches Moses Basena and Fred Kajoba's second test in full charge as the national side settles into life after Serbian coach Milutin Sredojević, better known as Micho.
It wasn't the sort of display that they had enjoyed last week as Uganda easily beat the Rwandans at St. Mary's Stadium in Kitende. Deservedly going two goals down in the opening 16 minutes swiftly reminded the lacklustre visitors just how thin the line they were treading had become.
The Cranes had come into the return leg with a fluffy cushion but that soon turned into an uncomfortable bed of thorns as the hosts ran riot from the word go.
The Amavubi rode on aerial dominance as well as impressive pace but their opponents returned after the break a much calmer side, much more settled into the game than before the interval.
The introduction of the fresher legs of Martin Kizza and Paul Mucureezi helped change the dimension of the game.
And as the game wore on, the visiting supporters, who made up huge numbers at the stadium, endured a nervy conclusion and only sprang to life by turning on the volume knob as soon as they sensed their side was nearly safely ashore.
Three minutes of added time could never have been longer for the Ugandans!
Eventually, Basena and Kajoba's troops held on, but only just. It was a very narrow aggregate margin and if they are to make their presence in January's finals in neighbouring Kenya count, The Cranes will have to do plenty of preparations and homework as they will face even much stronger opposition.
Uganda will be one of 16 teams to take part in the final tournament.
But before that, The Cranes have yet another assignment in under two weeks from now: a crucial home clash with the Pharaohs of Egypt.
Uganda will host the north African side in a 2018 World Cup Qualifiers (CAF) third round tie at Namboole Stadium on August 31.
After two group games played so far, Egypt sit top of Group E on maximum six points, Uganda second on four, Ghana are third with one point and Congo bottom with no point.
With four goals so far, Uganda's very own, Farouk Miya, is joint-top scorer with four others in the African qualifiers. The others are Algeria's Islam Slimani, Burundi's Fiston Abdul Razak, William Jebor of Liberia and Niger's Moussa Maâzou.
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2018 CHAN qualifiers: Uganda 3 Rwanda 0