By James Bakama
Going by the FIFA rankings an encounter between Madagascar and Uganda should be a no contest. The Indian Ocean island is 103 places behind Uganda on the world football governing body’s performance scale.
The Cranes were two weeks ago however given a rude awakening of how deceptive FIFA’s rankings can be. Uganda was beaten 2-1 by a visibly better playing Madagascar in the first leg of Nations Cup preliminaries.
As the Cranes take on the Barea in the return leg at Namboole today, the 1-0 target that the hosts have to advance would appear an easy task. But just like in the first leg, the Cranes could be in for a huge surprise if they don’t take the visitors seriously.
The recent loss wasn’t the first time that Madagascan triumph over Uganda was happening. In qualifiers for the 1984 Nations Cup finals, the same opponents beat Uganda 1-0 in Madagascar. Uganda won the return leg 2-1 but Madagascar advanced on strength of the away goals rule.
“We can only take them lightly at our own peril,” warned a member of that Cranes side Paul Ssali.
“They are ball players like Ethiopia. If we play to their rhythm, we are finished,” cautioned Ssali.
Ssali, who kept the posts that time, wants Uganda to be aggressive.
“We should be more physical and also make use of the long ball.”
The good news is that Micho will be leading a highly motivated team
Tom Lwanga, who was KCC coach when they played Madagascar’s BFV in 1991 shares a similar view. The physical game had good dividends for Lwanga just like it had also earlier paid off for SC Villa in 1983.
KCC lost the first leg 1-0 but won 3-1 in Kampala to advance in the Africa Cup Winners Cup. Villa had been more imposing in the Africa Club Championship winning 4-2 at Nakivubo before battling to a 1-1 result in Antananarivo.
There is cause to be optimistic today. Contrary to the first leg when Micho Sredojevich lacked the bulk of his first team, the Serbian tactician is this time spoilt for choice. Micho not only has all the players he needs, but will also be favoured by a familiar ground.
The artificial turf in Rabemanjara Mahajanga Stadium had the Cranes struggling.
The ground seemed to give the ball an unfamiliar bounce that always disoriented the visitors. The Cranes also have a passionate home crowd to bank on.
The unfriendly entry fees notwithstanding, Ugandans should turn up in big numbers to cheer on their team. A bad result for the Cranes will have them out of serious international action until late next year.
If Uganda advances it will be up against one more hurdle before getting to the group stage. Whoever qualifies tonight faces the winner between Mauritania and Equatorial Guinea.
The good news is that Micho will be leading a highly motivated team that is well aware of what is at stake.
“We have critically studied the tape of the first leg and will be leaving nothing to chance. We badly need this win and we shall be seriously going for it,” Micho assured Ugandans.
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Uganda Cranes going for the attack