All that Onyango and his Cranes teammates need to do to fulfill their ambition is beat Comoros.
AFRICA NATIONS CUP QUALIFIER
Today, 5pm Live on SS9: Uganda v Comoros
When Uganda last qualified for the Africa Nations Cup finals in 1978, none of the members in the current Cranes team had been born.
In fact, considering that the oldest member in the Cranes’ first team Geoffrey Massa is 30, we can safely say that two generations have passed without considerable success on the continent. Surely, that’s a statistic that isn’t pleasing at all if you consider the abundance of football talent Uganda has produced over the last three decades.
However, Massa and his largely youthful teammates could end such damning facts with a win against Comoros today at Mandela National Stadium, Namboole.
The one thing about the current group of footballers is that they all have their personal ambitions, every single one of them. For sure, they want to do well for their families, for their fans and their country.
During Cranes dinner on Thursday, it was gratifying to hear Denis Onyango appreciate the contributions of the 1978 team before adding: “But we want to create our own history. We want Ugandans to forget the 1978 generation and look at us as the group that changed Ugandan football.”
All that Onyango and his Cranes teammates need to do to fulfill their ambition is beat Comoros, who are currently bottom of Group D with three points, to secure 13 points –which will be the highest point tally of all teams looking at making Africa’s top showpiece through the two tickets available for the second best finishers.
The Cranes are aware of that and do not need to be reminded of how to approach the game.
“We know what to do. We will give everything. We’ll attack right from the start, and throw everything to them,” Massa hinted.
Massa and the other two experienced members of the team Onyango and Tony Mawejje must have learnt from their previous failures.
As painful as Adam Ssemugabi’s penalty miss against Nigeria in 1993, and faltering episodes in Lesotho (goalless–2007), and Niger (3-1 defeat–2008) were, it’s the disastrous events against Kenya and Zambia that still hurt the most.
In 2011, Cranes needed a win from any of their two games against Angola and Kenya to qualify for the finals and failed. They still couldn’t qualify in the penalty shoot-out against Zambia in 2012.
The final games of both campaigns were at home –Mandela National Stadium, Namboole –but home advantage still couldn’t count.
Striker Massa upbeat
“We have learnt a lot from previous campaigns. This is our moment,” Massa stated.
As it stands, Groups A, B and C present Uganda’s main challengers. In Group A, Tunisia (10) and Liberia (9) are the closest rivals, just as DR Congo (12) and CAR (10) in Group B, and Mali (13) and Benin (8) in Group C.
But the beauty about this is that unlike the Cranes, who will face hapless Comoros on the final day, the rest of the other challengers in all three groups (A, B and C) will face each other.
In Group A, Tunisia will face Liberia, in Group B, DR Congo will host CAR while in Group C, Mali will battle Benin–a scenario that plays to Cranes advantage as none of the teams that finishes second is likely to match Uganda’s 13 point mark.
On a cool evening when everyone will be on the edge of their seats, Cranes’ togetherness, the desire to accept the ball in the tightest of situations, with colleagues always making space to help out will be extremely fundamental.
Cranes coach Micho Sredojevic has done all his homework and that hopefully includes identifying the right candidate to fill the void left by suspended defender Denis Iguma at right-back.
“Since the Botswana game, I have not rested a single day. I have had sleepless nights planning for the game against Comoros,” Micho stated earlier on.
The pain in the Comoros ranks will stem from their captain Nadjim ‘Jimmy’ Abdou, with the budding talents of Mohamed Arkane, Yousouf Ben, and Omar Mdahoma pivoting around him.
Defenders Isaac Isinde and Murshid Juuko will have to deliver their best performances yet to contain the four.
If Khalid Aucho and Mawejje succeed in frustrating Comoros’ passing game in midfield, then the attacking midfielders Luwagga Kizito and Farouk Miya will provide extra ammunition behind lead strikers Massa and Okwi.
Good luck boys.
Probable line-up: D. Onyango, N. Wadada, J. Ochaya, M. Juuko, I. Isinde, K. Aucho, L. Kizito, T. Mawejje, G. Massa, E. Okwi, F. Miya.