14 February 2012

Uganda/Zambia: Zambia's Studied Approach Eludes Shamefaced Uganda

Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Zambia's Emmanuel Mayuka celebrates a goal.(File Photo)

The 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) enthralled Ugandan footballing fans if not for its spillage of upsets then its David v Goliath ending that effectively rewrote the narrative of African football.

When Ivory Coast with its star-studded cast decided to weave a tangled web in the final, which denied its band of thirty-somethings a last hurrah, a dose of romanticism left its trail on biennial football competition. Zambia's triumph, the romantics contended, had been written in the stars after Caf handed the Gabonese capital of Libreville the distinction of hosting the tournament's closing ceremony as well as final. Just under two decades ago, Zambia had assembled a galaxy of enterprising players who looked primed to make the World Cup grade for the first time in the country's history.

Disaster, however, struck when en route to Senegal an aircraft carrying the players crashed off the coast of Gabon. Going back to the country where the aforesaid tragic storyline panned out was bound to galvanise the Zambians as indeed it did. The Chipolopolo - as their national team is affectionately known - arrived in Libreville with the intuitive belief that it was their destiny to win. Their proud but brittle stars were ready to rear before their catalogue of near misses.

But beyond the David v Goliath ending of the 2012 Afcon final rests a nuanced moral. The tales that Zambia and Ivory Coast teleported into last weekend's final shouldn't be lost on many an African country. Bar their ebullient China-based skipper Christopher Katongo, Zambia's party that took the 2012 Afcon by storm plies its trade on the much-maligned African continent.

By contrast, Ivory Coast had just the singular player in its 23-man party who plied their trade in Africa. But despite their embarrassment of Europe-based riches, the Ivorians also supposedly had one indenture - Francois Zahoui, their coach with a toughened look, was not alien. He was, er, Ivorian. It's worth noting that since time immemorial African football has been imbued in counterproductive mythology. Africans always love to mythologise that an outfit laden with local-based players can only do as much.

We are also predisposed to the rather misleading perception that all (and not some/most) our indigenous coaches and their European opposite numbers contrast considerably in their artistic abilities. The 2012 Afcon final challenged us on both these fronts. It showed us that home-based players can also gravitate toward artistry as opposed to artisanship; that indigenous coaches are certainly worth the while (they won't feel apprehensive about hauling off an underperforming Box Office attraction a la Yaya Toure).

But most of all, the 2012 Afcon final showed us that a studied approach takes us places. The annals tell us that Zambia failed to jump the quarterfinal hurdle at the 2010 Afcon thanks to post-match penalties. A mediated approach saw them triumph in one this time round. Theirs is possibly the biggest indicator that an outfit merits success when it works toward countervailing its drawbacks.

Can Ugandan football boast of this? In a word, NO. So many times we have been happy to retrogress. For instance, when we were drawn to play against Angola in the 2012 Afcon qualifiers conventional wisdom suggested that we better the goalless draw we secured away to the Palancas Negras in 2008. We, however, contrived to lose 2-0. A studied approach would never have let us take those two steps back for the one giant one we toasted to in 2008. But that's Ugandan football for you - advance and technical teams are jam-packed with political appointees.

We play Senegal and Angola in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, but I highly doubt whether our Asuman Lubowa-led technical wing has pieced together information about the pair collated for its Afcon travails. Expecting Lubowa to take on such a studied approach is too much to ask for. Just the other day, the bald-headed Fufa Technical Director called a journalist to reportedly get the name "of the big striker who plays for Maroons [Football Club]". The big striker's name is George Abege, the journalist revealed before asking Lubowa why he wanted the lad's name. Lubowa's reply was bloodcurdling - he was putting together a provisional list for players to feature in a friendly between Uganda and South Sudan!

That's Ugandan football for you!

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