Farouk Miya’s brilliance helps Uganda beat Togo to progress to the group stages of the World Cup qualifiers.
By Joseph Kizza
The road to Russia 2018 became clearer for Uganda after Farouk Miya’s brilliance helped The Cranes convincingly sweep aside The Sparrow Hawks of Togo to progress to the group stages of the World Cup qualifiers.
This means that Uganda is among 20 African nations – some yet to be determined ahead of Tuesday’s other fixtures – that will compete for five World Cup slots allocated to the continent.
A resounding 4-0 aggregate win over Togo over two legs – 0-1 at the Stade de Kegue on Thursday and 3-0 in the return fixture today at Mandela National Stadium, Namboole – is what it has taken for Uganda to advance.
And with the two sides on their sixth meeting on Sunday, theirs was yet again a battle between an East African side ranked 68th in world football against a West African team that sits 20 places below.
The gulf in rankings immediately showed as The Cranes made quick work of the contest, killing off the game in the first half through skipper Geoffrey Massa’s early opener and striker Miya’s brilliant brace before the break.
Togo relished a 100% win record over Uganda in the first four encounters between the two nations, but with Coach Milutin Sredojevic (Micho) fielding arguably one of the best The Cranes squads in recent years for the World Cup 2018 campaign, it was a swift reverse of fortunes.
Carrying a 1-0 advantage back home from Lome only three days ago, the Ugandans, galvanized and disciplined, finished off the contest on home turf. And the triumph will come as sweet revenge for Micho’s side and the home crowd who endured back-to-back defeats against Togo last year in the Africa Nations Cup (AFCON) qualifiers.
Fantastic Farouk Miya
But while the home fans will be basking in such sporting delight, Micho will be looking one step ahead – thinking about how he will engineer his side past the group stage, even if that is months away now.
Besides, his in-tray has more immediate tasks to take care of. The African Nations Championships (CHAN) finals are coming up in Rwanda mid-January next year, and the tactician was keen to call on the services of the man responsible for Uganda’s presence in the CHAN finals: Farouk Miya.
Having shepherded that all-home-based side and scoring in back-to-back wins over Sudan in the final round of qualifiers, Miya once again stepped into the spotlight, proving to have gelled well into the senior team. He scored that priceless only goal back in Lome on Thursday and again in the return leg, he bagged a brace after captain Massa’s fifth-minute goal.
And while Massa troubled the visitors with his lanky presence on the flanks, Miya proved a constant threat in attack, often causing plenty of problems for his marksman.
A well-assembled home side immediately settled into the game as soon as Madagascan referee Nampiandraza El Mousssa’s whistle went off inside a full stadium.
The Cranes were keen to boss possession in the early stages of the game, forcing their West African opponents, playing without their talismanic striker Emmanuel Adebayor, to chase after the ball. The Sparrow Hawks traveled to Kampala to make amends for a lethargic home display, but they soon found out how hard that would be when they trailed in the fifth minute.
Iceland-based midfielder Tonny Mawejje picked out Massa from the right wing, the aerial pass landed on the South Africa-based striker's shoulder who then comfortably brought the ball onto his right leg, turned, and seeing the acres of space he was gifted with, drilled a long-range shot into the far left bottom corner beyond the reach of goalkeeper Djehani Nguissan Yao.
Uganda went on to heap more pressure on Togo, forcing them into two corners in the first ten minutes.
But the visitors quickly shook off that early profligacy and settled into the game, picking up their confidence and committing more men forward, although nothing came out of a 19th-minute set-piece.
On the sidelines, Togo's Beligian coach Tom Saintfiet looked a restless man, dishing out orders to his men on the pitch as the first half wore away. But he wasn’t alone. His opposite, seeing that his side had concentrated play on one side of the pitch for large parts of the game, often disseminated signals of more breadth in play.
Khalid Aucho, who plays for Kenyan outfit Gor Mahia, limped off the pitch a little over half-way into the first half and would not return, forcing Micho to introduce Geofrey ‘Baba’ Kizito to fill the gap.
Togo, just around the same time, also made reforms after Serge Ognadon Akakpo got injured.
The Sparrow Hawks found it hard to keep at bay the menace that was Miya, who once after being played in by a dashing Joseph Ochaya on the left flank, diced the ball into the path of Massa, but goalie Nguissan’s intervention proved vital.
Recently, The Cranes have had a knack of finishing off games in the first half, and the trend continued at Namboole as Miya’s brace four minutes before the break all but ended the contest. A rasping shot and a magnificent volley is proof that the young attacker has learnt quickly and is hungrier for goals.
Tonny Mawejje, who was guilty of the very first booking of the game after restart, should have added more gloss to an already impressive scoreline had he nodded home a nicely worked cross late on. But by the dying minutes of a miserable encounter for the visitors, the home fans, including Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, were already in celebrations.
What about the rest of eastern Africa?
After defeat earlier today, Burundi’s World Cup 2018 journey has come to an abrupt end after being beaten by DR Congo over two legs. And while Kenya’s Harambee Stars carry a 1-0 first leg win to Cape Verde Islands on Tuesday, Tanzania’s Taifa Stars play away to North African side Algeria the same day after a 2-2 draw in Dar-es-Salaam on Saturday. Rwanda, the hosts of the 2016 CHAN finals, will before that tournament have to play host to Libya on Tuesday in the hopes of turning around a 1-0 first leg defeat to the North African side – if they are to keep their World Cup 2018 ambitions alive.
Meanwhile, Sudan failed to muster a comeback at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium on Sunday against Zambia who moved on to the group stages. It was a seven-goal thriller on Saturday as Ethiopia suffered a 3-4 home defeat to Congo Brazzaville and if the Walias wish to progress, they will have to overcome the Red Devils at the Stade Alphonse-Massamba-Débat on Tuesday.
Road to Russia
So how is the journey to Russia like – from an African perspective? In Round Two, from which Uganda has just progressed, 40 teams have been paired into 20 home-and-away series. From these games, 20 winners advance to Round Three (group stage). The 20 teams will be drawn into five round-robin, home-and-away groups of four teams each. The eventual five group winners will qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia which will kick off on June 14 and end on July 15.
FIFA World Ranking of the eastern African sides
Uganda – 68th
Rwanda – 96th
Burundi – 107th
Ethiopia – 114th
Kenya – 125th
Sudan - 128th
Tanzania – 135th
World Cup 2018: Uganda advances to group stages