The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Massa - a Bittersweet Affair With Cranes Fans

No Cranes player divides opinion like striker Geoffrey Massa, whose on-and-off moments in games have become a regular part of the national team, writes John Vianney Nsimbe.

Cranes striker Geoffrey Massa's performance last Saturday only re-affirmed his love-hate relationship with the Ugandan fans since his Cranes breakthrough back in 2005. In one of those famous victories Cranes will ever boast of, was the 1-0 win over Ecuador in the LG Cup in December 2005 that Egypt hosted. With Uganda being one of the guest teams at the tournament, Massa scored the lone goal that helped Cranes make the final to face Egypt.

Amr Zaki's double, however sunk Cranes in the final. Yet, it didn't matter, as much as the arrival of Massa with relative technique but incredible speed and shooting power did at the time. Massa's directness was quite reminiscent of what the World had seen in a young but burgeoning talent in England's Michael Owen back at the 1998 World Cup.

In fact, it wasn't long after that introduction on the international football scene, that Egyptian club El-Mehalla sought his signature. And after a few months, The Cranes ventured out on the 2008 Africa of Nations campaign. Match-day one, September 3, 2006, Namboole stadium. And it is Massa cracking open the Lesotho back-line with two blinders of strikes in the first half.

But that was just half the story in coach Csaba Laszlo's first international game as Cranes tactician, as it was Massa's. The first goal, which got a full to the rafters Namboole reverberating, was a set-up by former Cranes striker, Hassan Mubiru, who lobbed the ball over the defence. Massa just chest-controlled on the run and turn before volleying it into the roof of the net. It is arguably Cranes best goal at Namboole in the last ten years.

But, rather more importantly, it brought a sense of not only joy to the Cranes fans but hope that maybe Massa would be a world beater with incredible finishing as what they had just seen. However, eight years since that eventful weekend on which Cranes won 3-0 following a David Obua penalty, also resulting from a foul on Massa, their expectations in Massa have subsided. Saturday's goal was Massa's seventh in qualifiers during his nine-year spell as Cranes lead striker.

Those goals have come in 23 games although Massa has 53 caps for Cranes in total. With Massa's Cecafa excursions added, he has scored 19 goals for Cranes in total. Against this, his critics argue that the reason why he can't be regarded so highly is because he is so inconsistent and profligate, yet his apologists insist that most of the goals he has scored are out of his sheer power and speed, and not a result of good creative midfielders feeding him.

Besides, even his competitors (Emma Okwi and Brian Umony among others) have flattered to deceive. Mike Mutebi, a former Cranes coach said recently, "It is unfair that people criticise Massa whenever he has a bad game. Yet, the service from midfield is minimal."

In addition, coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic was also happy with Massa's contribution. He said that although some fans were unhappy about his missed chances, it is probably because he wasn't fully fit.

But he acknowledged that he has done well for this country over the years, the latest being the 1-0 win over Madagascar in a game in which Cranes display, save for a few like Massa, Moses Oloya and goalkeeper, Dennis Onyango, was average.

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