By Fred Kaweesi in Marrakesh, Morocco
Senegal v Uganda: Kick-off at 11pm
Never has Ugandan football invested so much into ‘hope’ than this evening in Marrakesh, when a final verdict will be delivered on Cranes’ 2014 World Cup qualifying fate.
Tonight, the entire country will principally rely on hope, prayer and to an extent miracle when Uganda confronts Senegal in its ultimate qualifier that will determine whether Cranes progress to the final play-off round of the current qualifying campaign.
Suffice it to say that, Cranes’ engagement with the Lions of Teranga possesses all the hallmarks of ‘life or death’, where anything short of a victory, will leave the nation with more than its expectations shattered.
Hunt for goals
All indications are that the current situation has Uganda in an even-tightening embrace, considering that Senegal need just a draw to progress and it’s not clear as to how the team will perform over the course of the 90 minutes without Geoffrey Massa.
Cranes head coach Micho Sredejovic dropped Massa under mysterious circumstances and the Serb will come under fire if the move backfires in a game with so much at stake.
Against Senegal last June, the Cranes clearly struggled under the physical might of the West Africans until Massa came off the bench, troubled the back-four and from one of several darting runs, won Cranes a penalty that Godfrey Walusimbi struck for the 1-1 draw.
The Cranes line-up recently. Massa, standing third from right, was dropped
In Massa’s absence, Emmanuel Okwi will lead Cranes attack and will be supported by either Hamis Kiiza or Frank Kalanda against the Senegalese defence, whose average height is 6ft plus.
Chelsea striker Demba Ba was not considered for this game and Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse is ruled out due to suspension but that does not significantly weaken a Senegalese side littered with a galaxy of European-based stars led by West Ham midfielder Mohamed Diame, Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder Dame Ndoye, Fenerbahce striker Moussa Sow.
On the evidence of the first round meeting, Senegal exhibited finesse and astute movement on and off the ball an indication that Cranes will be required to fall back often when without possession.
Senegal’s 6ft-plus average player height also means the West Africans will territorially dominate the game, meaning Micho will have to call upon every bit of muscle from his physically endowed players to strike a counter-balance particularly in midfield and defence.
A lot is expected in regards to the passion and intense emotions that will go into the game and South African referee Daniel Bennet will be advised not to be card-happy due to the tackles that will be flying in from both sides during the course of the 90 minutes.
Micho will have to ask his charges to keep cool heads as the 37-year-old, English-born referee, will not hesitate assuming his disciplinary approach.
But if history is anything to go by, then Cranes faithful should be pleased with Marrakesh -a venue Cranes are familiar with following their impressive run in the LG Cup in November 2011.
Then, the Cranes shocked the hosts in a 1-0 win before finishing second to eventual champions Cameroon.
Throughout training during their three-day training camp in Istanbul (Turkey), Micho tried to stress the importance of keeping the ball and, for the long periods when Senegal have it, to “stay compact and keep the shape” and pressurise their creative stars.
Among Micho’s several instructions will be not to concede free-kicks within 35 yards of Denis Onyango’s goal.
“We will try to do what is necessary. We have worked on several areas both practically and in theory,” Micho stated early this week.
“We had a good training camp in Turkey and will try to give ourselves a chance.”