By Aldrine Nsubuga
UGANDANS may be a forgiving lot, but sadly, football isn’t. It’s a banality Cranes Serbian coach Milutin Sredjovic will have put to the test, by the time the 2014 Africa Nations Championship in South Africa ends on February 1st.
To Uganda’s credit, it’s the second successive appearance at the locally based player tournament which is just realizing its third edition.
The maiden edition for Uganda which was held in Sudan –Khartoum in 2011 turned into a horror show however, as the Cranes lost all her group matches to Sudan, Algeria and Gabon under former coach Bobby Williamson.
Such recent history is not easily forgotten, particularly Ugandans who were deprived of success on the continent throughout 2013.
If Cape Town turns into another disastrous adventure, the Serbian coach will be slaughtered. He may also bear the cross of his predecessor who is no longer here to defend the Khartoum 2011 disaster.
Moreover, Micho is also not helped by the Cranes flop at the recently concluded CECAFA 2013 in Kenya, where they shocked the nation by failing to make it to the semi-finals.
The largely young and inexperienced side that Micho has taken to Cape Town has a chance to establish a profile of its own and get out of the shadows of the maligned teams of the past if they perform beyond expectations.
Ochan Benjamin, Martin Mpuuga, Sam Kabugo, Brian Majwega, Ivan Ntege, Mpande Joseph and Sentamu Yunus have flirted with stardom in the past as they struggled to free themselves from the shackles of the predictable but tired veterans. It’s their turn now to show Micho cause – why they shouldn’t be the leaders of the new generation.
Andrew Mwesigwa, Godfrey Kizito, Hamis Kiiza, Geoffrey Massa, Stephen Bengo, Abbey Dhaira, Robert Sentongo and Brian Omony among the many who have been lost in translation over the past few years.
This domestic group of players at CHAN 2014 can choose to close the ‘professionals’ debate once and for all, or they could resurrect it altogether just like Bobby’s flops of Sudan 2011 did.
Thankfully, the Serbian coach has had the wisdom to mix new with some old wine – Hassan Wasswa, Nicholas Wadada, Said Kyeyune, Denis Iguma, and Vincent Kayizzi – but still, one hopes that the emphasis will be on the beacons of hope.
For now, Micho has set qualifying from Group B which also has Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe and Morocco as his primary target. Put in the right perspective, he’s hoping that Uganda can for once overcome the curse of West Africa and North African opposition which has shown to be insurmountable over the decades.
Both Burkina Faso and Morocco pride themselves in having hugely successful youth football development structures, which is why they’ve earned themselves a reputation on the continent.
The Cranes recent friendly matches against Mauritania, Rwanda and Egypt unfortunately can’t be a useful pointer to the team’s capabilities. Cranes beat Mauritania 3-0 at Nambole but who is Mauritania? They drew 0-0 with neighbors Rwanda and as usual lost to Egypt. They were eliminated from CECAFA 2014 by Tanzania in the quarter finals.
Uganda will also be in the company of big boys Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, DR Congo, Congo, Gabon, and South Africa. The significance of the presence of Burundi, Mozambique and Ethiopia - also viewed as light weight journey men - is, that, Uganda may quietly begin to build a mini-reputation of being among the rising teams on the continent.
After all, Sudan and Tunisia, the finalists at the 2011 CHAN edition failed to qualify, while the likes of Cameroon, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Zambia are also missing. Just being grouped at the tournament already guarantees Uganda US$100,000 which is the reward they get for upstaging more reputable names.
If they can finish 3rd in the group, the reward gets bigger – US $ 125,000. Micho though is looking beyond the financial rewards and has promised that his boys “have the passion to do well at the tournament.”
At a time when dark clouds are hovering over Ugandan football, a good showing at CHAN 2014, never mind qualifying from the group, is what it will take to flag the rainbow in Micho’s face. At this moment, Ugandans are looking to the future and many want to see which players are ready to accept the responsibility.
Micho has done well to spread his net which gathered fish from the likes of Soana, Kira Young, Victoria University, Police, Proline and Vipers. Now is the time to prove that he’s a good fisherman.