Uganda's national beach soccer team - the Sand Cranes - will be the underdogs at this month's Africa Cup of Nations finals in Senegal starting next week.
However, they would love to defy the odds having stormed their maiden Afcon beach soccer tournament through earning a bye as would-be opponents Ghana pulled out.
Uganda Beach Soccer Association (UBSA) chairman Deo Mutabazi is convinced that they will fly under the radar to put up a spirited contest.
"Many will be surprised when we make it out of the group and go past the semifinals," Mutabazi says positively.
"We just need to beat Tanzania and DR Congo and then prepare for Morocco or Egypt from Group B," he adds of group A permutations that also has hosts Senegal.
To Mutabazi, hosts Senegal aren't insurmountable and the Sand Cranes will take the bull by its horns. "The team had two test matches amongst themselves and you could see that they boys are ready to make it to the later stages of the tournament," Mutabazi stressed. Quietly coach Salim Muwonge's side harbour Beach Soccer World Cup ambitions. The global tournament will be held in Russia in August. To get there, Sand Cranes must reach the final.
Bayige to the rescue
In addition to the team that left for West Africa yesterday, Ugandan beach soccer referee Ivan Bayige will also take the whistle for the second time at this level.
He was also a referee at the 2018 edition in Egypt. Bayige has recently visited the Sand Cranes camp in Njeru and polished the players on the standard rules they are to encounter.
"He lectured them on the prevailing rules that are going to be phased out after the tournament and gave them a proper feel of what to expect at an Afcon outing," Mubatazi revealed.
Cranes commence their adventure on Monday against neighbours Tanzania. Thereafter, games against Senegal on Tuesday and DR Congo on Wednesday await.ume at the stadium.
BEACH SOCCER AFCON
Dates: May 23-29
Venue: Saly City, Senegal
A: Uganda, Senegal, Tanzania, DR Congo
B: Mozambique, Egypt, Morocco, Seychelles
Sand Cranes Group Fixtures
Uganda vs. Tanzania
Senegal vs. Uganda
Uganda vs. DR Congo
FINALS: May 29
SAND CRANES TEAM
Goalkeepers: Meddie Kibirige, Nasser Lwamunda, Ronald Mutebi
Defenders: Paul Lule, Davis Kasujja, Douglas Muganga, Rica Byaruhanga, Jonathan Kikonyogo, Suleiman Ochero
Forwards: Ismail Kawawulo, Baker Lukooya, Emmanuel Wasswa, Swalley Ssimbwa, Ambrose Kigozi, Ronald Magwali