Ugandans Eagerly Wait for Nigeria's Super Eagles
Why the Super Eagles will curse their June flight to Kampala.
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First published: May 24, 2007
James Sentongo (bodaboda cyclist): "Uganda: 1 Nigeria: 0; The home advantage will spur the Cranes. (Geoffrey) Serunkuma is worthy scoring a goal."
Next week the Uganda Cranes square off with the Super Eagles of Nigeria on the 2nd of June 2007 in the long waited second leg of the 2008 African Cup qualifiers. If you study the football fever in Kampala at the moment, you could be mistaken into thinking the game is scheduled for tomorrow. The Federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA) has reacted by upping the entry charges to three times the usual 5000 Uganda shillings as a way of not only maximising revenues but of discouraging over-crowding at the gates of Mandela stadium, Namboole too.
The dominance of high profile stars in the visitors' squad with the likes of Kanu Nwanku, Obfemi Martins, Obi Mekel, Joseph Yobo and others provides an ideal chance for soccer-mad Ugandans to have a physical glimpse of Europe's professional cream hence the fever. This is the icing to the cake in the form of what transpired in the first leg in Aboekuta where the Cranes, despite a splendid performance lost to the hosts by 1-nil thanks to Senegalese referee Abdul Diatta who controversially cancelled Godfrey Sserunkuma's equalizer in added time.
To ensure that Uganda Cranes floors the so called mighty Nigeria, FUFA has lined up three build-up matches against Kenya, Burundi and Senegal (who will have a stop over in Kampala before connecting to Dar-es Salaam where they will tussle it out with the Taifa Stars of Tanzania.
Kahooza Rita: "Uganda: 2 Nigeria: 1; The Nigerians controversially survived our assault in the first leg. So being away from home, the Nigerians will pay for the theft in the first leg."
Like wise, news from Abuja indicates that Berti Vogts, the Nigerian coach is aware of the mountain ahead of him and has been forced to conduct a one week camp in Nairobi, Kenya in a bid to acclimatize his team to the East African environment as opposed to his earlier plans to camp in Europe. All said and yet to be done, the Eagles are destined to curse their trip to the Pearl of Africa.
With the modern Mandela stadium filled to capacity, the Cranes will be on the pitch with 12 players as the sale of trumpets, hoots, drums, flags and the Cranes' memorabia have all multiplied and the fans vow to avail the Ugandan boys with all the necessary morale boosting thought out the entire 90 minutes of the game.
Olivia Nambi (business lady on William Street, Kampala): "Uganda: 1 Nigeria: 0; Uganda has always been deadly at home. So, the Cranes will use the home advantage to thrash the Nigerians at Namboole."
Revenge is sweet
Like the fans, the Ugandan players themselves cannot wait for the game as they anticipate revenge against Nigeria for what they describe as day light robbery during the first leg. "Nigeria is just a name, I just pray that God keeps me alive up to the game," playmaker David Obua fumed shortly after the first leg. His coach Laszlo Csaba echoed the same sentiment when he warned fellow German counterpart Berti Vogts that even traveling with a Senegalese referee to Uganda will not save Nigeria from being mauled.
Nigeria's off colour spell
When you recall the days of Rashid Yekini, Ibrahim Babangida, Sunday Oliseh, George Finidi, Amokach and others, the current crop of talent seem like novices. Little surprise therefore, that the Super Eagles are going through one of their worst performance periods. Their failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and the recent 4-1 mauling by Ghana, cements my argument.
Cranes' right form and age
In contrast, the Cranes seem to be enjoying one of their convincing spells. The previous bouts in which they surprised Ghana, Lesotho, Niger and the Super Eagles themselves, are enough to foretell a nightmarish visit for the West Africans. The average age of the squad is precisely the right one for any team to reap anything. Its now or never for the Cranes' stars like David Obua, skipper Ibrahim Ssekajja, Nestroy Kizito and mid-field dynamo Babadi Kasule. Denis Onyango and hit man Geoffrey Massa at 21 are as seasoned as the rest. The rest of the team are in their late twenties and are exceptionally accustomed to top-level football.
Albert Lugo Carson (lawyer in Kampala): "Uganda: 2 Nigeria: 1; I base this prediction on the confidence and commitment exhibited by the Ugandan players. For example, Eugene Sepuuya paid for his own ticket to come for national duty. Players including Egyptian based (Geoffrey) Massa reported promptly for training. This shows that the boys are determined to overturn the frustrations they encountered in Aboekuta. The way they played away from home in Nigeria shows that Uganda is a good side."
The Obua factor
The Kaiser Chiefs' 'live wire', without doubt has endured a poor season in South Africa, but it seems he was born for big games only. Flash back to his priceless extra time strike against Mauritius in the 2006 World/African Cup qualifiers. Remember Obua against South Africa when he earned his professional move to Kaiser Chiefs. What about his header off that Phillip Ssozi free kick against Ghana in the 2006 qualifiers. In short, Joseph Yobo, Okoronkwo and company should expect lots of trouble.
Nigeria's reliance on individuals
Despite their massive talent, for long Nigeria has depended on individual skill rather than teamwork. The gap left by the retirement of magician Jay Jay Okocha is evident since the likes of Obi Mikel have found it hard to fit into his shoes.
Musana Martin (security guard): "Uganda: 2 Nigeria: 1; Ever since Csaba (Cranes coach) took over, the national team has improved greatly."
The return of Massa
The country's number one striker missed the first leg because he was serving his suspension but he returns to lead the goal hunt. The skill, pace and eye for goal possessed by the Egypt-based U-23 captain are expected to expose the loopholes in the Super Eagles' rearguard.
FUFA has already promised a seven-figure reward for each player should they accomplish the mission and it's a matter of time before big companies like MTN Uganda and Samona disclose their offers too.
If we are to believe the aphorism that 'History repeats itself', then the 1994 African kings are in danger as very few West African teams have left Kampala with a smile. Ghana has twice fallen prey, losing 1-0 in 2002 courtesy of Philip Obwiny's free kick before coming from a goal down in the 2006 qualifiers to grab a point. Within only 30 minutes, Obua's name had appeared on the score sheet. Cameroon, Senegal and Guinea are some of the other West African powerhouses that have faced the music in Kampala.
JB Otim (policeman): "Uganda: 1 Nigeria: 2; Despite the spirited fight put up by the Cranes in the first leg, Nigeria remains a better side. Our defenders cannot handle Kanu and company for the entire 90 minutes."
Uganda last appeared in the African showpiece 29 years ago, in the finals held in Ghana before current star David Obua was born. His father Denis Obua was one of architects on the team. Could it be that with David Obua masterminding the team's efforts and the tournament being hosted in Ghana again, history will repeat itself?
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First published: May 24, 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.