Kampala — As we saunter into 2019, everyone will reflect on an eventful 2018 during which Uganda qualified to another Afcon final with a game to spare, the magnificent St Mary's Stadium - Kitende was added to the venues Caf allows to host continental games, the inaugural Fufa Drum tournament got regions bonding while daring Mike Mutebi's KCCA showed that Maghreb teams can be conquered. But what do we have to look forward to in 2019?
Exciting Premier League race
This year promises to be an exciting Premier League race. Last season, it was a three-horse race with Vipers, KCCA and SC Villa - who threw in the towel near the finish line. For Express, it was the unlikely battle to beat the drop. The ribbons were finally tied on the trophy at Kitende as Vipers established a 4-point lead against second-placed KCCA, who were rewarded with the Uganda Cup. The race to the tape became a formality as SC Villa, the Christmas champions, threw away a 6-point advantage they had half-way the mark over Vipers. Whether pretenders can keep the pressure on the leaders KCCA and Vipers, remains a mystery.
But neither team will find it easy. Vipers have started showing cracks after crashing out of the Caf Champions League, but they are unbeaten in the league for more than a year. What will make this season exciting is the fight at the bottom. The excitement and anticipation surrounding this season can be illustrated by the goals scored too. Vipers' reject Bashir Mutanda is the season's revelation at SC Villa. The season is made even more exciting by the thrilling brand of football on offer from even small teams. Villa is struggling, for sure, but they are vibrant. KCCA is scoring for fun yet Onduparaka, Kirinya Jinja SS, Police and Maroons are exciting while the animated Asaph Mwebaze has been a breath of fresh air at Nyamityobora who acrimoniously parted ways with James Odoch. And while life on the field has been dull at SC Villa, a shoddy start led to Moses Basena's dismissal for Moses Basena has given Douglas Bamweyana the chance to illuminate the Jogoos once more.
The U17 Afcon
The continued growth of football in Uganda gets its greatest showcase more in Tanzania when the 13th edition of the 2019 Africa U-17 Cup of Nations is held. Expectations have never been higher as Uganda football's profile continues to rise. Uganda, the Cecafa champions, are the only debutants and will be hoping to qualify for the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru as the CAF representatives if they can finish among the top four at the 8-team tournament. The draw has only added to the anticipation as Uganda, managed by Peter Onen, face two-time champions Nigeria, who are making their ninth appearance, in their second game on 17 April. Hosts Tanzania and Angola make up Uganda's group.
This is an intriguing journey for the highly billed team of sensational teenagers.
Big League thriller
The most expensive league in Uganda, the Fufa Big League is offering more. There are no processions to promotion but this season is likely to set up a potentially thrilling 2019. A combination of ingredients are in the mix to make this a potent cocktail. The arrival of Wakiso Giants (renamed from Kamuli Park) was always going to add spice and it has not only taught us how a football brand can be managed but also coincided with an inevitable season, where eight teams will be relegated as the Big League builds to a nationwide 17-team league next season. It would, however, be patronising to simply focus on Wakiso Giants as Proline and Kiboga Young have an outstanding season.
This season is heavily loaded with significance and it is shaping up to be a 2019 to relish. The Big League is the division that produces tension and excitement every year because the price of success is so great and the price of failure can be so expensive.
Can Cranes go past the groups at Afcon?
Uganda capitalised on reaching the back-to-back Africa Cup finals with their away victory in Cape Verde and by completing a double over the Blue Sharks and Lesotho. This was done without conceding in 450 minutes. It built a feel-good factor and increased the belief that Sébastien Desabre has a squad offering real optimism for the future. Now they have a great chance to turn potential into something tangible next June. The revamped qualifying format where half almost the continent (24 countries) will be at the finals means that focus now shifts to a better performance. But success breeds success and it would be a sign of progress and development should the Cranes be able to progress from the groups as they re-establish themselves as a serious power in the game a tag they proudly wore in the 1970s. This is an exciting time for Uganda's football at all levels, and 2019 might just provide further evidence of how bright the future might be.
2020 Beach Soccer Afcon
Is there anything sweeter than hosting an international event?
Uganda has been playing beach soccer for a few years without any real chance of qualifying for the finals. But proof is that Uganda will host the 2020 Africa Beach Soccer Cup of Nations, earning the right to play in the finals without negotiating the tricky qualifiers. Previously, referees, Shafic Mugerwa, Muhammad Ssenteza and Ivan Kintu have been getting to the big stage on invitation. But with Moses Magogo, the head of the CAF Futsal and Beach Soccer committee has shown how good a strategist he is. Having a tournament of such a magnitude is not everyone's cup of tea. And that is just the start. The league will on 2019 now surely be competitive as players eye a place to the national team.