The Uganda Cranes find themselves in the same group as hosts Egypt, neighhbours DR Congo and Zimbabwe for the 2019 Nations Cup finals due in June.
2019 TOTAL AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS DRAW IN EGYPT
By Joseph Kizza
CAIRO - When Uganda kick off their seventh appearance at the Africa Nations Cup finals two months from now, in June, of course they will long have known their group-stage opponents in this new-look edition featuring the biggest number of teams so far - 24.
After negotiating out of the qualification stage with relative ease, progressing as Group L winners, it is back to square one for Uganda Cranes, technically speaking, as they are now faced with a new mountain to scale. Only this time, it is Mt. Everest.
Friday's draw ceremony on a glitzy night in the Egyptian capital Cairo lifted the lid off the plate of anticipation to reveal a tough cast of hosts Egypt, neighbours DR Congo and Zimbabwe crammed in the same den as Uganda for the finals.
The opening game of this 32nd edition of Africa's biggest nation competition will feature record winners Egypt and Zimbabwe on June 12. That means Uganda's opening group-stage match will be against DR Congo.
Meanwhile, Uganda's East African neighbours Kenya and Tanzania are in the same group (C) alongside west African rivalry in the shape of Senegal and north African opponents in the form of Algeria.
Burundi, on their maiden appearance at the finals, have their tasked spellt out. Nigeria, Guinea and fellow debutants Madagascar stand in their way in Group B.
Here are the groups:
|GROUP A||GROUP B||GROUP C||GROUP D||GROUP E||GROUP F|
|DR Congo||Guinea||Algeria||Ivory Coast||Mali||Ghana|
So how far can Uganda go?
How far do you think The Cranes will - or can - go? In all honesty, it is (very) hard to tell.
Uganda Cranes head coach Sebastien Desabre will have watched with keen interest as a stellar cast of former stars including El Hadji Diouf and Yaya Toure randomly picked out and revealed the teams for group placement.
The Frenchman, who has been at the helm of the national side since the departure of Milutin Sredojević at the end of 2017, might have cringed a bit from the reality of having to face the host nation, who have won the competition more times than any other side (seven).
It may be 45 years since DR Congo's last triumph, but the fact remains that they have won the competition two times before - in 1968 and 1974.
The closest Uganda have come to the title was finishing as runners-up in 1978. It will be the fourth finals appearance for Zimbabwe, but the southern Africa side have never made it out of the group.
Sebastien and co will believe that they can at least manage Zimbabwe. But to progress to the knockout stage, the Ugandan camp will require tenfold that amount of belief if they are to get past The Pharaohs and The Leopards.
Uganda's journey to Egypt 2019
The Uganda Cranes began their qualification campaign with a 1-0 victory over Cape Verde in mid-2017. Geoffrey Sserunkuuma found the all-important breakthrough in the 83rd minute at the Estádio Nacional de Cabo Verde in Praia, Cape Verde's capital and largest city.
Their second Group L game arrived 15 months later - in September 2018. Here, The Cranes under new coach Frenchman Sebastien Desabre faced the very opponents they played Sunday: Tanzania. And that game at Mandela National Stadium had no effect on the scoreline, ending goalless.
The following month, on October 13, Uganda hosted Lesotho. Emmanuel Okwi scored on either side of Farouk Miya's 37th-minute penalty as The Cranes established themselves as the team to beat in the group with a resounding 3-0 victory on home turf.
There was no time to rest, as these two sides were soon back in action three days later - this time hosting roles changing. But again, Uganda proved too good for Likuena, Miya's double sealing an important 2-0 away win at the Setsoto Stadium in Maseru.
Unbeaten, with a clean sheet and on 10 points from four games, Desabre's side were oozing confidence and belief. Victory at home against Cape Verde the following month (on November 17) would all but seal their back-to-back qualification for the AFCON finals. Patrick Kaddu scored the only goal of the tie 13 minutes before time to send the Cranes through with a game to spare.
Then came the final qualifier tie against neighbours Tanzania last month. The Cranes trailed by a goal at half time, thanks to Simon Happygod Msuva's fierce strike. The hosts returned from the break intent on putting this tie to bed - and they made their motives clear when Edward Erasto Nyonyi beat Denis Onyango from the spot six minutes into the second half, before Aggrey Morris sealed Tanzania's qualification with the winner.
The draw night in pictures