SHOWTIME: Uganda Cranes versus Nigeria's Super Eagles
Judgment Day as the Cranes battle Super Eagles in 'David Vs Goliath' battle.
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First published: June 2, 2007
The time has finally come. Since the controversial 1st leg in Abeokuta, there has been a lot of talk, most of it rotating around a revenge mission planned by the Ugandans while the Nigerians dismissed the Uganda Cranes' credentials. It is now time to walk the talk as the two teams come face to face once again in a do or die 2008 Ghana African Cup of Nations qualifiers tie at Namboole stadium today, June 2, 2007.
In the first leg, the Uganda Cranes did put up a rare spirited fight despite controversially losing 1-nil to the hosts, thanks to Senegalese referee Badru Diatta, who had the powers to cancel Sserunkuma's would-be equalizer in the dying minutes of the game. Since then, the Cranes' players, tacticians, Federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA) and the entire soccer fraternity in Uganda have been in impatient, breathing fire and promising to pay Nwankwo Kanu and company in naira.
Off the pitch, business in Kampala in terms of sales of hooters, replicas of Cranes' jerseys, caps, drums, whistles, masks, etc has become intense while the transport fares from Kampala to Namboole, are expected to be hiked from the usual 700 Uganda shillings to between 2000-3000 Uganda shillings. Uganda's football governing body, FUFA, has been forced to increase the entry charges to 15,000 shillings from the usual 5000 shillings, not only to maximise revenues but to control the expected crowds in the 45,000-seater stadium too.
All strategies have been laid to ensure that the Super Eagles are brought down and various companies have extended their financial muscle to the team. National Insurance Corporation recently unveiled their 350 million shillings package to the cause. MTN Uganda is back onboard to sponsor the team. Samona Products and various other individuals have also extended help. The team has been under going intensive residential training for two and half weeks under the watchful eyes of coach Laszlo Csaba.
Uganda needs nothing less than a win to keep her qualification campaign alive in addition to stamping her arrival among African football heavy weights. To this effect, Csaba has ordered his troops to attack the visitors from the word go to the final whistle, reminding them to keep calm and stay disciplined through out.
If you thought that the Cranes would go timid and defensive against one of the biggest African football power houses, you are off the mark, as Csaba has vowed to maintain his preferred 4-4-2 formation. I know we are playing an underdogs fiddle, but I have never doubted the quality of my boys. Like we did in the first leg, we will play a normal game, there is no point in being too defensive. Instead of sitting back, we will try to close the spaces and press them where the ball is, reveals the 42 year German disciplinarian, whose impact since taking over the job last year is evident.
The fact that Berti Vogts expects Csaba to crowd his mid-field is probably why Csaba has decided otherwise, choosing to retain his two-man mid-field team of Noah Kasule 'Babadi' and master planner Ibrahim Ssekajja as 'live wire' David Obua and Rwanda-based Vincent Kayizzi chip in to help.
The home advantage brings a 12th player (the support) on the Cranes' side and the news that the Super Eagles' mid-field dynamo, Mikel Obi, vice-captain Joseph Yobo, defender Ayila, and workhorse Christian Obodo are doubtful for the encounter, has convinced the Ugandans that the scale of the mountain to climb over this weekend has been reduced from that of Everest to Elgon size.
Reliable Denis Onyango remains unopposed in between the goal posts as the Ethiopia-based Hannington Kalyesubula continues to understudy him from the bench. Solid Andy Mwesigwa is serving a match suspension, providing a chance for the inexperienced but steady Hassan Wasswa to fill his boots and partner with the Celtics Bloemfontein FC player of the year Timothy Batabaire in the central defense as impermeable Nestroy Kizito and Richard Malinga (one of the few locally based players on the team) operate on the left and right full back positions respectively.
The four man rearguard however, will yet again have to deliver at 100 % plus, if they are to keep Obafemi Martins and Kanu inspired attacks at bay. After missing the first leg, the country's leading marksman Geoffrey Massa returns to lead the goal hunt and there is no doubt , the Nigerian back four of Yobo, Enakahire, Shittu and Taiwo are in trouble should the 21 year old Egypt-based maverick work out their weaknesses.
Massa's return though, has rendered Csaba a selection problem on who to partner with Massa. Geoffrey Sserunkuma, veteran hit man Hassan Mubiru and Uganda Super League leading scorer Hamis Kitagenda are all in terrific form. This is in addition to the Armenia-based Eugene Ssepuuya who, despite being dropped earlier, showed his desire to take part in the crunchy game when he billed all his travel costs to Kampala. Dangerous substitute Daniel Wagaluka is expected to be one of the members on Csaba's rich bench. The pint sized ex-Iganga FC midfielder has on many occasions come off the bench to change the flow of the game in the Cranes' favour. Don't forget that it is this man's well calculated corner kick that yielded the disallowed goal in Abeokuta.
In some of the other games of the tournament , Uganda's neighbours, the Amavubi Wasps of Rwanda try to rejuvenate their sluggish campaign when they host Equatorial Guinea at Amahoro stadium in Kigali while the other group 3 (in which Uganda falls) members, Niger and Lesotho sort themselves out in Niamey. Lesotho's Crocodiles swallowed Niger in the first leg.
Elsewhere, in Dar-es-Saalam, Tanzania's Taifa Stars (who held the Cranes to a 1-1 draw in a friendly at Nakivubo last weekend) are attacked by Eldhaj Diouf's Lions of Teranga. Liberia tests how indomitable Samuel Eto's Indomitable Lions of Cameroon are, while Burundi shifts its home from Bujumbura to Kigali, Rwanda where they host Botswana. Their national stadium (Prince Louis Rugasole Stadium) is being laid with artificial turf.
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First published: June 2, 2007
Ramathan Kasozi is a member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. . A graduate Journalist, Kasozi has more than 5 years experience reporting on sports in Uganda for different print and broadcast media houses.