18 June 2017

Uganda: Can Cranes Pull Off an Unlikely Double?

Photo: Daily Monitor
Fufa president Moses Magogo (L) embraces Cranes keeper Onyango after the latter put on another heroic performance away from home.

This column also strongly believes that neither the 2018 Fifa World Cup finals nor the 2019 Afcon finals should be prioritised over the other. Momentum built in one qualifying campaign should instead be used to feed into the other.

The juxtaposition of Uganda's 2018 Fifa World Cup and 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaigns produce an identical numeral that is dangerously full of temptations. Both campaigns have thawed out sufficiently to allow a smile to appear on the faces of once-upon-a-time long-suffering Cranes fans.

It is immediately obvious why Cranes fans are in high spirits - because of the identical numeral, which happens to be two.

Last Sunday's 1-0 win away to Cape Verde in Praia has seen Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic's charges open up a two-point lead in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying group that also has Tanzania and Lesotho.

The news of yet another win on the road (the ninth since 2013) was greeted with an unimaginative routineness because Cranes are in the midst of a purple patch when it comes to qualifying matches. Last year also brought with it some encouraging signals in a 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifying campaign that hits a crescendo in September. A goalless draw in Ghana and a marginal 1-0 win at home to Congo Brazzaville has left The Cranes just two points behind Egypt.

The Pharaohs, who are yet to blink after visiting Congo Brazzaville and hosting Ghana, sense a perfect opportunity to free themselves from a thunderously dark embrace that has seen them not qualify for the World Cup finals since 1990.

They know that the doubleheader against Cranes, which will see them visit Uganda at the backend of August before renewing acquaintances in Alexandria five days later on September 2, will be pivotal.

Previously, it used to be unimaginable, and certainly an act of sheer folly, to stake your neck on Cranes going toe to toe with their Egyptian opposite numbers. Not anymore! The Pharaohs made heavy weather of vanquishing Uganda at the 2017 Afcon finals in Gabon. And if Ugandans needed to be reminded about the fallibility of Egypt, KCCA did just that by achieving a victory few thought possible in the not so distant past.

Lugogo Magic

Everyone expected the Kasasiro Boys to strain under the weight of the struggles of Ugandan football outfits at the hands of Egyptian opposition. Instead KCCA flew in the face of the assumption by knocking Al Masry out of the Caf Confederation Cup.

Yes, there is no denying that Al Masry, who finished the 2016/17 season in fourth position, a hefty 23 points behind Egyptian champions Al Ahly, is no barometer for the health of Egyptian football. But there is also no denying the presence of a repository for hope for Cranes. Having previously never seen the purpose in being hopeful thanks to familiar sinking feelings, Cranes fans find themselves basking in the afterglow of their team's decent showings. This should nonetheless preclude them from having a sense of entitlement.

To his credit, Micho has preferred to discuss the unpleasant possibility of complacency unravelling what looks like a glowing storyline. Your columnist couldn't agree more.

This column also strongly believes that neither the 2018 Fifa World Cup finals nor the 2019 Afcon finals should be prioritised over the other. Momentum built in one qualifying campaign should instead be used to feed into the other.

The campaigns could become much more identical than the numeral two they share with varying degrees. But for this Cinderella story to see the light of day, the midnight oil will have to be burnt.

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