The Taifa Stars produce a convincing performance to hit three past The Uganda Cranes in Dar es Salaam to book a place in the Nations Cup finals.
2019 AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS QUALIFICATION
|GROUP L FINAL TABLE|
By Joseph Kizza
DAR ES SALAAM - A couple of things happened inside the National Stadium on Sunday: Uganda lost for the first time in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualification stage, their clean sheet flushed down the drain in the process. And most importantly, Tanzania produced an inspiring performance to qualify for the finals for the first time in 39 years.
A resounding 3-0 victory on home soil against a juggernaut that is Uganda will have sent a nation into celebrations for a good part of the coming days.
The Taifa Stars joined Group L leaders The Cranes in the finals due in Egypt in June after Lesotho, initially second in the group before Sunday, were held to a frustrating goalless draw by Cape Verde in Praia.
It means the East African Community (EAC) has a huge representation in the upcoming 32nd edition of the continent's biggest footballing national championship: Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and now Tanzania.
For the first time in the tournament's history, 24 nations will compete in the finals.
Uganda's road to 2019 AFCON finals
Uganda kicked off 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. 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.
No side had managed to break down the Cranes in this campaign. The closest a team had come to doing so was to hold Desabre's lads to a draw - and that was Tanzania in September last year (0-0) at Namboole.
Four games since then and the Taifa Stars, ranked some 60 places below The Cranes in global rankings, returned to prove it was no fluke.
Having beaten Uganda only seven times in 51 previous meetings, Nigerian Emmanuel Amunike's side put up an inspired showing in front of a full house that underlined their enthusiasm, will, dynanism and hunger as a team.
And it showed as soon as Gabonese referee Eric Otogo-Castane's whistle went off inside the packed 60,000-seater stadium in Dar, Tanzania's former capital. Home skipper Mbwana Samatta blasted an early freekick into the wall of red-and-black as Taifa Stars applied early pressure.
It was always going to be a long evening for the Ugandans, and Allan Kyambadde's needing of medical attention five minutes into the opening half provided a measure of evidence to this.
Miya sent his 10th-minute freekick into the Tanzanian wall - as was the rebound, as both sides sought a breakthrough. Kaddu produced a weak shot after clean touches by the visitors, who had two Tanzania-based players in Nico Wadada and Emmanuel Okwi feature.
On the other end, Samatta was an ubiquitous figure in a series of Tanzanian attacks and inevitably had a hand in the home side's opener in the 21st minute. Uganda failed to clear a cross delivered from the left flank. John Bocco fed Msuva, whose fierce shot took a slight deflection off a Ugandan defender before beating an outstretched Onyango. That was the first time the Mamelodi Sundowns' goalie was beaten in an AFCON qualifier in over three years.
Yet that would not be the only time in one evening. The Taifa Stars would go on to find another two goals - one from the penalty spot - to make it to the finals for the first time in 39 years.
#AFCON2019Q FT' Taifa Stars 3-0 @UgandaCranes (20' Saimon Happygod Msuva, 50' Erasto Nyoni - (P,) and 58' A. Morris)#TANUGA@OfficialTfGM @CAF_Online @KCCAFC @VipersSC @fifamedia pic.twitter.com/JD4rnICW0N— FUFA (@OfficialFUFA) March 24, 2019
|New Vision's Fred Kaweesi:|
With just two months to go, the game against Tanzania would have been one of few fixtures to try out some of those fringe players that weren't able to make the first team and offer competitive opportunities to some of the exciting prospects in the Uganda Premier League.
But Desabre's decision to stick with a host of the team's regular guards -including the pair that has been inactive without clubs in Hassan Wasswa and Godfrey Walusimbi meant the likes of Dan Sserunkuuma, local Premier league top scorer Juma Balinya (16 goals), season revelations such as Joel Madondo and Bashir Mutanda - bar any injuries - were unlikely to be involved in this year's Nations Cup finals.
Which begs the question, are Cranes good enough to make the knockout stages of the tournament? Maybe, maybe not! Only half of the current squad were part of the side that made that historic appearance in Gabon. It will thus come down to how the French tactician sets out his team, improves the team's efficiency from dead-ball situations and attack that has been erratic for years.
Cranes are still short of a player that leads the attack with the sort of authority that Geoffrey Massa had - his modest goals-per-game ratio notwithstanding. Against Cape Verde, Patrick Kaddu struggled to lead the lines on his own. But then again, he worked so hard to prove that with an attacking partner, he can still deliver. His instinct to ghost past his marker for the all-important goal was a precious quality.
Other than depending entirely on Emmanuel Okwi, Cranes will need competent alternatives or partners to support him. Kaddu earned his place on the high table but has just played a couple of games since his return from injury.