Uganda's African Cup jinx : Back to the Drawing Board
"I'm so surprised. This can only happen on the African continent. It is CAF that determined our destiny. Our rivals got the results they wanted after knowing ours. I can bet those wouldnt have been the results if we had all played at the same time," fumed Ugandan coach, Laszlo Csaba.
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First published: November 18, 2007
Many Ugandan soccer enthusiasts are yet to recover from the failure by the Uganda Cranes to qualify for the African Cup of Nations finals to be played in 2008 in Ghana. Some are still shattered after witnessing the Cranes get very close to, but get locked out of the Ghana finals. Most started getting concerned shortly after South Africa's Bafana Bafana lost a qualifying game to Zambia 3-1 at home in what Ugandans viewed as a result intended to eliminate the Cranes. The Cranes had, a day earlier, well and truly thrashed Niger 3-1 at Namboole stadium. This sent Ugandans wild, believing that they had secured a vacancy in the Ghana finals, based on the assumption that South Africa would beat or at least not lose to Zambia by more than two goals.
Some Ugandans are now blaming Africa's football governing body, Confederation of African Football (CAF), for rescheduling games involving Uganda's rivals (South Africa, Zambia, Mali and Benin) for the remaining slots to later dates, which might have allowed the two COSAFA members (South Africa and Zambia) to mathematically edge Uganda out. I'm so surprised. This can only happen on the African continent. It is CAF that determined our destiny. Our rivals got the results they wanted after knowing ours. I can bet those wouldn't have been the results if we had all played at the same time, fumed Ugandan coach Laszlo Csaba.
The final nail in the Cranes' coffin was hammered on 12th October 2007 when Benin played against Mali. Mali won away from home to bury any possibility of Uganda qualifying to end their 30 year-old jinx. Uganda last qualified for the African Cup finals in 1977 (also held in Ghana). The Cranes' unsuccessful 2006/2007 Cranes' campaign is particularly painful because the team put up a very good performance. They managed to win all their home games, posted two draws away from home and controversially lost in Nigeria. The Cranes opened the campaign with a convincing 3-0 triumph over Lesotho, thanks to Godfrey Massa's heroics and then settled for a barren draw against Niger in Niamey, before completing the first round with a controversial 1-0 loss to Nigeria in Abeokuta. Senegalese referee Badru Diatta cancelled Geoffrey Sserunkuma's equalizer for no clear reason.
The struggle continued, with the brave Cranes revenging against the Super Eagles in a historical 2-1 victory at Namboole, then settled for another goalless draw against Lesotho in Maseru before winding the campaign up with a 3-1, hard fought victory over Niger. David Obua, with his hat trick, was the hero. With statistics of three wins, two draws, a single loss and eight goals scored against three conceded, some Ugandans have concluded that unless they negotiate with their 'gods', Uganda's ACN Cup qualification jinx is destined to continue.
True, every one (playing staff, FUFA, fans, sponsors, media, etc) did their job as expected, but lets buy the proverb that says, The down fall of a man isn't his end. We lost only a battle, not the war. For Uganda, the hopes of playing in 2008 in Ghana are gone. So, let us close that chapter, return to the drawing board, and prepare for the Angola 2010 finals.
With some of the Crane's squad (including David Obua, skipper Ibrahim Ssekajja, Noah Kasule Babadi and Hassan Mubiru) likely to wave bye-bye to their national football careers soon, it is imperative for the Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA) to start thinking about finding younger talent to replace them. The next step would be for FUFA to organise international friendly matches to expose these young players and to monitor all Uganda's foreign-based talent. This is because for long, Uganda's problem has not been lack of talented players but organisation, the ability to spot and nurture her talent and possibly lack of self-confidence among her players. Consistence and self-belief are the two main pillars on which Csaba has built his team.
Between the goalposts, Denis Onyango carries national responsibility at only 22. This means that other things being constant, he is still on the scene for at least another decade. His deputies Hannington Kalyesubula, Posnet Omony and Mulindwa Muwonge are equally young. The fast rising Abbey Dhaira and SC Villa captain Yasin Mugabi offer enough back up in this department. In the defence department, the rock solid central defence pair of Timothy Batabaire and Andy Mwesigwa is as strong as Simeon Masaba in the right fullback position. Ssekajja and left fullback Nestroy Kizito appear to be ageing, but with the likes of Micheal Azira, Musa Doka, Hassan Wasswa and Juuko Yusuf, little should cause panic in the Cranes' camp.
Talent to be nurtured and exposed: Nicholas Kabali (right) and Kefa Kisala (middle).
In the middle of the field, it is difficult to replace 'king' David Obua and workhorse Babadi Kasule, but it is too early to forget that when Sula Kato hung his boots up, very few dreamt that one day, Obua will fill them appropriately. Waiting to take charge here are Express FC's wonder kid Tom Ssemogerere, SC Villa's duo of Oscar Agaba and Jeremiah Ssebuyira, in addition to Bunamwaya's left-footed Ronald Muganga and Robert Kimuli. Dan Wagaluka, Assan Pitche Bajope, Augustine Nsumba and Patrick Ochan are all tested ammunition in the midfield.
Ever since the departure of Magid Musisi and the premature end of Andy 'Fimbo' Mukasa's career, the nation has struggled to get a perfect replacement for both stars and I believe that doing so will take ages. Nevertheless, we should not cry over spilt milk, especially with Geoffrey Massa, Godfrey Sserunkuma, Moses Adune and Yuda Mugalu still in their learning phases. Like the Bible says, when a door closes, God opens a window. Let us keep our fingers crossed, stay focused and hopeful for the Angola 2010 campaign. After all, a decided mind does not understand the word 'impossible'. Patience, though often painful, always pays.
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First published: November 18, 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.