By Fred Kaweesi
How cruel, how brutal and how unfair! What do Cranes have to do to qualify for a major championship?
Probably some kind of ritual cleansing to end a jinx that has now become a major concern than previously thought.
Of course, some will say that Cranes should have scored more goals in normal time or tucked away every one of their penalties to guarantee qualification.
But at the same time you need a portion of luck to achieve your target and that is what has eluded Cranes in the previous two qualifying campaigns.
Against Kenya during the 2012 Nations Cup edition, Cranes needed just a goal to guarantee qualification but fell short after a goalless draw at Namboole Stadium.
Against African champions Zambia, the challenge seemed more formidable but when Geoffrey Massa struck on 27 minutes, the odds seemed to have tilted in Cranes favour against a poor Chipolopolo side.
But yet again, Cranes failed to find that valuable second goal that could have sealed qualification.
With the tie evenly locked to a 1-1 aggregate, Uganda still couldn’t win the resultant penalty shoot-out.
Cranes goalkeeper Denis Onyango seemed to have swung the advantage Cranes’ way after saving Christopher Katongo’s first kick for Zambia, but misses from team captain Andrew Mwesigwa and Patrick Ochan earned Zambia that undeserved ticket of returning to the finals after a 9-8 victory.
And although Godfrey Walusimbi, Simeon Masaba, Onyango, Emmanuel Okwi, Tony Mawejje, Hamis Kiiza, Moses Oloya and Godfrey Kizito converted theirs, it was impossible to stop a side that won two shoot-outs in the 2012 Nations Cup tournament against Ghana and Ivory Coast in the final.
We should have probably settled this fixture in normal time as Cranes had proved the better side over the two legs. Apart from the 15 minutes when Chisamba Lungu pretended to trouble Cranes with step-overs, the Zambians were second best throughout the game with 2012 Nations Cup top scorer Emmanuel Mayuka and team captain Christopher Katongo abject.
The only time Katongo came to light was during the pre-match handshake and while missing his penalty.
Massa troubled Zambia, not once but on several occasions and in one embarrassing moment, he tricked goalkeeper Mweene into colliding with defender Hiachi Himonde, which was understandable as minutes earlier he had helped Cranes to a deserved lead.
The Cyprus-based striker eluded Zambia’s defenders and scored with aplomb after controlling Godfrey Walusimbi’s well-weighted cross.
Apart from Mayuka’s serving shot that Onyango had to deal with, a majority of all the best opportunities fell to Cranes’ substitutes Emmanuel Okwi (Brian Umony) and Hamis Kiiza (Massa).
From one of the counter-attacks, Kiiza could have scored but saw his header saved by goalkeeper Mweene.
Now that the dust is fast settling, where do we go from here? Already, there have been calls from fans that both FUFA President Lawrence Mulindwa and Coach Bobby Williamson should resign.
The fans are raging and understandably disappointed.
But Mulindwa, Williamson, the Cranes technical staff and the players are equally disappointed, much more than the fans. It must be said Mulindwa has been the ‘heart and soul’ behind Cranes’ close shaves over the years.
Over the previous qualifying campaigns, he has ensured that the players have worked in an upright environment.
He has invested personal fortune for the success of the team over four campaigns with a proper bonus structure laid out irrespective of who plays where.
Should Mulindwa have stepped forward for the last penalty that Ochan missed?
Do not lose hope!
Each one of the 18 players wanted to qualify and be part of history.
It would be unfair to castigate a bunch of players that have worked their way into privileged positions of qualifying but fallen short because of just a goal or penalty miss.
A jinx can be broken and the signs are very clear now that it will be broken sometime in the near future when least expected.
Let’s not forget it took the multi-talented Spanish side 24 years to end its jinx of attempting to win the European championship in 2008.
Ever since, Spain has won everything that is there to win.
Likewise when the moment comes, qualification will become routine for the Cranes.
Williamson has significantly improved the playing standards within the squad he inherited four years ago.
He has restored confidence and there is little if not none that separates them from African giants and champions. They have matched the very best and all that Cranes need is LUCK!
As it is, Cranes will have to shift their focus to the CECAFA Challenge Cup in December, where Williamson should consider fielding an entirely development side and 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign that resumes in March next year.
Do not give up!