Epic Mission 1: Uganda Cranes on the Brink of Breaking the 33 Year Old Jinx
Uganda Cranes practicing.

Epic Mission 1: Uganda Cranes on the Brink of Breaking the 33 Year Old Jinx

AFCON: Angola vs Uganda Cranes, 4th September 2011.

By Ramathan Kasozi
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First published: August 30, 2011

The Uganda Cranes are just a point away from breaking the 33 year jinx. The last time Uganda’s senior national soccer team, the Cranes took on Angola’s Palancas Negras away in Luanda was in 2008 and the game ended goalless. Should the Cranes replicate the same kind of results on 4th September 2011, this will qualify Uganda for the 2012 African Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Coach Bobby Williamson is on the brink of breaking the 33 year old jinx that has haunted Uganda, the CECAFA soccer power house for that long. Uganda, last qualified for the finals of Africa’s most prestigious soccer show piece way back in 1978 in Ghana.

Uganda Cranes at the brink of history

But many will see Uganda’s as a guaranteed qualification, unless the Cranes throw the chance. Uganda is comfortably leading group ten with 10 points, four points adrift of Angola and just need a point to guarantee their plot in the finals with a game in hand against neighbors Kenya to spare.

For me, there is no question about the credentials of the Coach Williamson’s boys to pick that desired precious point from Luanda. They have been unstoppable throughout this campaign netting six goals in four games so far played and conceding none. This means that Uganda and South Africa are the only teams that are yet to concede any goal in the qualifiers.

Of recent, the Cranes have turned Angola into their punching bag and in the first leg at Namboole stadium, the Cranes did thrash Angola 3-nil thanks to David Obua, defender Andy Mwesigwa and Geoffrey Sserunkuma. This was after another 3-1 mauling in the 2008 qualifiers and  a goalless draw away in Luanda.

All said, this shouldn’t cause complacency among Ugandans especially if they have learnt any lessons from the past campaigns. For quite long, Uganda has been losing out on the final days of the qualifiers after failing to negotiate with the mathematics that are often involved.

No complacency

The Angolans can hurt us where it matters most. Remember the common saying that goes; revenge is best dish served cold. Good enough the team Head Coach Williamson himself is aware of it.

“We have beaten Angola for some good period but it doesn’t mean that they are weak opponent.  Complacency shouldn’t come in. We need a point from Luanda and we have to work for it. It’s not yet over till it is over” says the Scottish who is credited for having taken Ugandan game of football to another level ever since he took over from Lazlo Csaba in 2008.

Veteran right full back Simeon Masaba, almost echoes his boss as he cautions his fellow teammates. “Away games have never been easy and history counts nothing to me. We need to be at our best both physically and mentally if we are achieve our target,” the URA FC defender says in an interview.

Uganda must remember that ever since that defeat, a lot of  changes have happened in the Angolan camp both technically and administratively. Apart from the changes in the coaching staff, the government decided to fully assume responsibility of the team in preparation of the fixture against Uganda. This depicts the kind of respect the 2006 World Cup finalists’ accord to the Uganda Cranes. 

Uganda Cranes practicing
Uganda Cranes practicing.

Cranes likely undoing

Majority of members of the team are lacking match fitness either as a result of injuries, suspensions or pre- season. The two pillars of the team, skipper Ibrahim Ssekajja and play maker David Obua have been out of the game for varying reasons. While Ssekajja has been serving suspension at his club Red Bulls Salzburg, Obua has just returned to training at his Scottish Club of Hearts United due to his nagging hamstring.

Dependable left full back Nestroy Kizito is still doubtful for this encounter nursing an ankle injury he sustained in the 2-nill victory over Guinea Bissau. Goalie Denis Onyango hasn’t been involved in any competitive football ever since the Guinea Bissau game and seems unsettled trying to seal his lucrative transfer from relegated club Mpumulanga Black Aces to South African giants Mamelod Sundowns.

The local based pair of Masaba and Geoffrey Walusimbi is still in pre- season till 9th September 2011 when the Bell Uganda Super League gets underway.

This shouldn’t be an excuse however, as Williamson since taking over the coaching mantle of Uganda, has never built his team on individuals but on team work. No eminent changes are expected in the team that has been doing the good work so far in this campaign.

The rear guard

For quite some time almost in the last two decades, Cranes problem has never been in the defensive department and this partly explains why the team is enjoying a clean sheet record in this campaign. Williamson welcomes his inspirational Captain Ibrahim Ssekajja from suspension after sitting out the Guinea Bissau game as a result of accumulated yellow cards. The player that filled his boots on that day, Hassan Wasswa, did perform well. It was quite eminent that the command of Ssekajja was lacking on the pitch.

Ssekajja is expected partner the no nonsense solid Andy Mwesigwa in the Centre half with ever green Simon Masaba taking charge of the right full back as Nestroy Kizito( if fully fit) mans as the Left full back.

They back four will however, be expected to be at their usual best if they are to counter Angola’s attacks spearheaded by Manucho and workhorse Alberto Mateaus  especially in the expected full to capacity Luanda stadium.

The safe hands of in-form Denis Onyango should remain unchallenged in between the goal posts with Ice Land based Abel Dhaira, understudying him on the bench.

Mid field

In the current Cranes squad, quite often much of the credit is accorded to the likes of Ssekajja ,Obua or Massa but to me the brains behind this so far successful campaign is the un sung holding midfield duo of Tony Mawejje and Musa Mudde. The two have been superb, displaying a talent beyond their age.

They have always determined the tempo of the game for the team, throwing timely tackles, guarding the defensive department and more importantly their diagonal killer passes. Flash back Mudde’s pass to Walusimbi that resulted into the first goal against Guinea Bissau that caught the whole defence napping, What about Mawejje pin point passes to Massa for the second!

The pair is likely to be joined Walusimbe on the left side of the midfield as inconsistent Vicent Kayizzi patrol on the right.

Goal hunting task

Every Ugandan football fan is now addicted to a five man midfield employed by Williamson as Obua’s relocation to the hole behind the main striker Geoffrey Massa gives the numbers in the midfield and allows the team to keep possession and pass the ball better.

Obua is coming from injury thus half fit, but being a big game player, he remains the player to watch in the Cranes attack along side a workhorse  but extravagant Geoffrey Massa. The two will hope to capitalize on the poor goal keeping department of Angola.

A win or draw, as usual will come from collective effort other than individual brilliance and if the team can take the confidence of the performances in this campaign, there is no reason why the country won’t end the 33 year jinx come September 4th 2011.

Probable line up: Denis Onyango, Simon Masaba, Nestroy Kizito, Andy Mwesigwa, Ibrahim Ssekajja, Mudde Musa,  Vicent Kayizzi,Tony Mawejje,Geoffrey Massa, David Obua  and Godfrey Walusimbi.

Uganda Cranes practicing
Uganda Cranes practicing.

By Ramathan Kasozi
more from author >>
First published: August 30, 2011
To learn more about Ultimate Media Consult go to www.ultimatemediaconsult.com.

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.