Uganda 1 (1) Madagascar 0 (2)
(Uganda win 2-2 on away goals rule)
By Joseph Kizza
NAMBOOLE - The Uganda Cranes made amends for their first leg shortfall by beating a visiting Madagascan side in front of a home crowd in full voice in their 2015 Africa Cup Nations qualifier.
Striker Geoffrey Massa's early first half goal was enough to seal the victory, but he will blame himself for failing to convert the best of chances in front of goal on either side of the game.
Saturday’s triumph kept Coach Micho Sredojevic’s side in touch with their campaign to Morocco, and the Serbian tactician will have been pleased with the nature of a fightback his boys put up at Mandela National Stadium, especially after he had admitted prior to the match that he had had a tough week trying to gather his foreign-based players.
But he knows far too well that there is still more work to be done when Uganda next faces either Mauritania or Equatorial Guinea before the group stage.
For now, the latest result was exactly what the home fans needed out of their team, after questions were raised following Uganda’s defeat a fortnight ago to the Barea Stars, who sit 103 places below the Ugandans in the Fifa world rankings.
Still some will question the Cranes' attacking prowess as, in truth, Saturday's final scoreline did not flatter the proceedings on the ground, with the home side squandering a basketful of opportunities. Had Massa converted his chances in front of goal, he would have bagged a hattrick, or even more.
Two weeks back, on the artificial turf of the Rabermanjara stadium, the Ugandans were hit by a sobering reality check – that a better ranking does not necessarily guarantee a better result on pitch – and so they felt the urgency to make every bit of that rude awakening count back home.
While the visitors needed only a draw to move on, the hosts knew a 1-0 win in their favour would guarantee them progress, and they achieved just that.
The two sides had not met in this competition since April 1983, when Madagascar beat Uganda over two legs, riding on the away goals rule (2-2), to advance. This time, in a replica of that arrangement, the fortunes, or misfortunes if you like, took a reverse shift.
The hosts enjoyed the advantage of playing on a familiar ground as opposed to the artificial surface back in Madagascar on which they struggled, during which they were only lucky that Diego Hamis Kiiza pulled one back late on to earn his side an away goal that proved very crucial in today's tie.
Micho had asked his boys to compress the game and keep the tempo as high as possible, and they responded in affirmative behind the ball, launching an early attack from the right wing.
Ugandan South Africa-based goal keeper Denis Onyango, who missed the first leg engaged in club duty, returned in perfect shape and was forced into an early save from an in-swinger yards out. But his opposite, Robin Jean Claude Rakotonirina, proved the busier party as he dived and punched and slammed and tipped the ball over the crossbar quite a time many.
The return of Onyango, Tonny Mawejje, Massa and Moses Oloya on Micho's line-up was a massive boost as the brilliant Oloya troubled his marker on the wing. Another player who showcased great athleticism was 20-year-old Kizito Luwagga, who forced keeper Rakotonirina out of his comfort zone with a well-launched strike from several yards out.
The Barea Stars, having struggled to hold the ball for lengths, capitalized on great set-pieces which occassionally kept custodian Onyango and his defence block busy.
And the visitors did not allow themselves to slump back after Massa's accurate header sent the home crowd into frenzy. As it stood, Cranes were through, but with the goal coming so early, in the 14th minute, the home side knew they needed a cushion of another goal.
Once, a deft flick from Dennis Iguma found an active Massa, who ended up being wasteful, like in many other situations.
On their part, the Madagascans were quick on the counter-attack and were furious when one of their own appeared to have been brought down in the box, but it would have been a harsh decision by the referee towards the home side had he pointed to the penalty spot.
The vistors made one subsitution, which saw Njiva Rakotoharimalala come on for Baggio Rakotonomenjanahary. On the other side, Emmanuel Okwi, who had an unsually low-key game, was replaced by Hamis Kiiza. Later on, Tonny Mawejje stepped on in the place of Oloya, who appeared to limp off the pitch. Yunus Ssentamu also came on for the final minutes.
While Massa's wastefulness continued to stick with him, on the other end, it was Carlous Andriamahitsinoro who should have dented the hosts' hopes, but he was denied late on.
The road to Morocco is still a long bumpy way off, but if the Cranes are to play with such vim and confidence as they did against Madagascar, and work on improving on the sharpness in front of goal, then perhaps this could mark the beginning of an end to a 36-year-old curse that has enjoyed the company of Uganda Cranes.
Uganda has not qualified for the Nations Cup finals since 1978, an iconic year that saw the Cranes beaten by Ghana in the final.
(PHOTOs by Mpalanyi Ssentongo)
Geoffrey Massa's early strike was just enough to settle matters
Patriotism at its best. The fans came in full voice . . . and in a range of colours as well!
Madagascan goal keeper Robin Jean Claude Rakotonirina was a very busy man
Coach Micho stalked the sidelines almost all through the 90 minutes
PHEW! : Uganda progressed, thanks to the away goal rule (2-2 was the aggregate score)
Egyptian referee Mohamed Farouk Mahmoud was in charge of the Saturday tie
Does he need any introduction?
Also related to this story
Uganda Cranes going for the attack
Uganda v Madagascar match preview
Micho pleased to have Oloya available