Ugandans have every reason to be optimistic about qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, after yesterday's final draw pitted The Cranes against a familiar foe, writes John Vianney Nsimbe.
On paper, it could have been better or worse, but in the end, The Cranes seem to have settled for the middle ground. The Zambians are not only the defending champions, they are also the favourites to progress. But history suggests otherwise. Besides, Uganda also has the advantage of hosting the second leg at Namboole.
Mike Mutebi, the SC Villa tactician, says that being the defending champions, Zambia have a 60-40 percentage edge over Uganda. He reasons that their recent experience of winning in difficult situations has boosted their confidence and morale. But apart from that, Mutebi adds that The Cranes can match the Chipolopolo because of the football history the two teams share.
They've met many times in the Cecafa Cup and shared wins, losses and draws. However, he goes on to say that the Zambian team has become more professional and efficient.
"They play a high tempo passing game. As such, we must prepare to counter their strengths in the build-up to the game. We shouldn't bank on the fact that we play away first and therefore wait to do the job at home. A good team can win from anywhere."
Godfrey Walusimbi, a Cranes left-back, agrees with Mutebi's argument about preparing adequately to avoid a similar scenario like the 3-1 first leg loss to Congo-Brazzaville in February. But Walusimbi also believes that playing the second leg at home gives The Cranes a big advantage.
"Drawing the likes of Tunisia, Morocco or Ivory Coast would have been so scary. But not Zambia. We've seen them at the Cecafa many times and I strongly believe we can match them punch for punch. This is our time to qualify indeed," Walusimbi says.
The two nations have faced off 31 times and the Zambians hold the edge with 16 wins while seven have been draws with the most recent one coming in 2010 when the two sides drew 1-1 at Namboole in a friendly. However, the two teams haven't met in a competitive match in almost two decades and The Cranes ejected the Chipolopolo in a penalty shootout to qualify for the Cecafa Cup final.
The first legs will be played on the weekend of September 7-9 while the return fixtures take place between October 12-14.