Guinea v Uganda SS7
Ghana v Togo SS5
The last time Uganda appeared in an Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) event was 37 years ago in Ghana.
Those years of suffering could however be brought to an end on Wednesday night when Uganda visit Casablanca to take on Guinea, with a point from that fixture liable to secure the conclusion of their AFCON absence.
The journey so far
Across recent history few sides have been closer to qualification without actually accomplishing it, with the Ugandans only missing the 2012 AFCON by a single point – Angola ultimately clinched the sought after qualification birth. That setback though was merely minor in the gut wrenching stakes given a year later only an epic penalty shootout defeat – 20 kicks in total – denied Uganda progression at the expense of 2012 champions Zambia.
Uganda were one of seven nations forced to navigate their way through the final group stage round of qualification via two knockout fixtures – the cranes negotiating past Madagascar and Mauritania. Their journey and with it Sredojević’s rein might have ended in the ignominy of falling at the first hurdle with Uganda coming from two goals adrift to advance courtesy of the away goals rule against Madagascar with Geoffrey Massa’s second leg strike in Kampala securing a tentative progression.
A relatively kind, yet still taxing draw, raised aspirations of ending their prolonged AFCON absence with Uganda being handed the trio of Ghana, Togo and Guinea. On first glance Ghana were perceived overwhelming favourites, yet leadership issues combined with the fallout from a turbulent World Cup means their position at the apex was no forgone conclusion.
Togo – who disappointingly finished bottom of their World Cup qualification group – are a side deemed on the decline, whilst Guinea – originally the most significant threat to Uganda stealing second spot – were always liable to be heavily hindered by Ebola denying them the benefit of home advantage. A point in Kumasi against the black stars signified a dream start, although such was Ghana’s level of ineptitude combined with Uganda’s dominance that the cranes might have felt frustrated by the 1-1 score-line.
As momentous as that point was, it would have counted for little had the cranes not consolidated with victory over Guinea in their subsequent clash. Two goals from Massa represented the end product of a hugely assured performance, with the timing of those strikes – both arrived in the first half – ensuring nerves were never allowed to materialise.
Those opening displays handed Uganda the Group E eight ball and with a double-header against dispirited Togo next on the agenda – the sparrow hawks had lost their opening two encounters – aspirations were rife that the qualification pendulum was finally swinging in the Cranes favour.
The curse however would strike back with what at the time was believed to be critically effect. Unbeaten at home in over ten years – a run which compressed 22 competitive fixtures – the inconceivable occurred in Kampala as Donou Kokou’s sole strike was enough to condemn Uganda to a first defeat on home soil since 2004. Another 1-0 defeat to the same opposition saw their qualification hopes plunged into disarray, in the space of four days the Cranes had gone from dictating the group to a position in which room for maneuver was none existent.
The equation however would evolve yet again on Saturday, as from the fire of their apparently dwindling qualification Uganda roared back into contention courtesy of a historic triumph over disjointed and lackluster Ghana at a raucous Mandela National Stadium. Savio Kabugo provided the game’s pivotal goal early on and despite the closeness suggested by the score-line there was little denying Uganda as worthy winners against a side a million miles from the sum of their parts.
Now heading into the game, the two teams are tied on seven points each, although Uganda are second because of a better head to head and goal difference.
Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic, the Cranes head coach in an interview in Casablanca said that the chance is in the legs of his players. “They can go all out and play their hearts out and win the game and make Ugandans proud,” he said.
Senior player Tony Mawejje who scored in the 1-1 away draw to Ghana says that he is optimistic this is Uganda’s time to qualify. “Everything has it’s time and I think God has decided we qualify this time,” Mawejje said in Casablanca on Tuesday.
Together with the South African based duo of striker Geoffrey Massa, goalkeeper Denis Onyango and skipper Andrew Mwesigwa, the midfielder is expected to play a big part to see that Ugandan can break this jinx.
It’s a tricky encounter as the winning team will automatically qualify for the event in Equatorial Guinea. Uganda Cranes are second in the Group with seven points, while Guinea have an inferior goal difference and head to head.
Defensive stability has been Uganda’s strongest facet through qualification to date and that proficiency will again need to be evident against a Guinea brimming with attacking options, although given the unrivalled stakes the fixtures outcome is liable to hinge as much on mental fortitude as technical aptitude.
The Syli Nationale come to this game well motivated after a 4-1 thrashing of Togo in Lome. Although the coach Michel Dussuyer called up SC Bastia striker François Kamano for the game, the youngster failed to show-up. Seydouba Soumah who netted a brace and Idrissa Sylla who scored one against Togo last weekend together with skipper Ibrahima Traore are expected to play a key role for Guinea.
Right-back Abdoulaye Cissé is suspended against Uganda for accumulation of bookings. The visitors will have defender Godfrey Walusimbi return after serving a suspension, while AS Vita striker Junior Yunus Ssentamu who got injured during the game against Ghana misses the match.
Uganda probable XI: Denis Onyango (GK), Isaac Isinde, Godfrey Walusimbi, Andrew Mwesigwa (C ), Savio Kabugo, Geoffrey Kizito, Tonny Mawejje, Luwagga Kizito, Farouk Miya, Daniel Sserunkuma and Geoffrey Massa.
FACTS: (adapted from kawowo.com)
- Uganda’s last participation in the AFCON finals came in 1978 while Guinea last qualified in 2012.
- Both nations’ highest achievement in AFCON is silver medals. Uganda finished runners up in 1978 while Guinea were losing finalists in 1976.
- Uganda’s Geoffrey Massa and Guinea’s Souma Seydouba are tied on 4 goals in the campaign. Only Burkina Faso’s Jonathan Pitroipa (5) has scored more.
- Uganda’s last match played in Morocco ended in a 1-0 loss at the hands of Senegal in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers
- The Cranes are just a point away from reaching the finals while Guinea must beat Uganda.
- Guinea have scored 8 goals and conceded 8 in the campaign while Uganda has scored 4 and conceded 3.
- Guinea is yet to lose a game in their new adopted Morocco home. They beat Togo 2-1 and drew with Ghana 1-1 coming from a goal down.