After waiting for almost four decades without taking part in the Africa Cup of Nations finals, Uganda finally ended the absence on September 4, 2016 exactly five years today.
In a game played at the fully packed Mandela National Stadium, Namboole in Kampala on Sunday afternoon, Farouk Miya scored the only goal in the 1-0 victory over Comoros.
Despite dominating proceedings from minute one of the game, the Cranes couldn’t hit the back of Ali Ahamada’s net until the 35th.
In fact, Ahamada saved Miya’s initial shot at goal but was let down by his defense’s slow reaction. This helped Moses Oloya to collect the ball, returned it to the Cranes jersey 17 who sluggishly forced it into the net.
Playing in front of various dignitaries that included First Lady Janet Kataha Museveni who also doubles as Minister of Education and Sports, the Cranes settled for a 1-0 win despite creating several scoring chances.
However, this was just enough to send them to the finals for the first time for 38 years. Some of the players raised their arms and others sank to their knees at the sound of of the final whistle.
Although Burkina Faso had beaten Botswana 2-1 to finish top of group D with 13 points, Uganda qualified as one of the two best runners up on equal number of points but inferior head to head record against the West Africans.
Uganda’s previous appearance at the Nations Cup had ended in a runners-up spot when they lost to Ghana in the 1978 final.
The Cranes had broken hearts of Ugandans for so long after being involved various near misses. Therefore, the news that coach Milutin’ Micho’ Sredojevic and his boys had finally done it, was sweet music to their ears.
And consequently, many a fans reacted differently. There were those who stormed the pitch to celebrate along with the players. Others remained static and looked like they had gone numb while many blew their vuvuzelas non stop as they lit up the stadium with fireworks.
How the two teams lined up:
Uganda: D.Onyango, N.Wadada, J.Ochaya, K.Aucho, M.Jjuuko, I.Isinde, T.Mawejje, F.Miya, G.Massa, M.Oloya, K.Luwagga
Comoros XI: A.Ahamada, N.Abdou, C.Youssouf, Y.Bendjaloud, K.Ahamada, F.Bachirou, Y.M’Changama, C.Ahamadi, B.Fardou, N.Chamed, D.Bakar
Micho, whose players lifted in air to acknowledge his efforts in the qualification, took the country to Gabon but the performance in the finals was a little wanting.
Grouped alongside Ghana, Egypt and and Mali, Uganda could manage just a 1-1 draw against the latter. Farouk Miya again, scored the only goal of the tournament for the East Africans.
Micho would later leave the Cranes job after playing one game of the 2019 qualifying campaign.
Under the guidance of new man Sebastian Desabre, Uganda returned to Africa’s top international football competition in a row.
The team this time round made it out of a group that had hosts Egypt, DR Congo and Zimbabwe. They were stopped by Senegal at the round of 16.
However, after the tournament in Egypt, Desabre left too and Fufa hired Johnathan Mckinstry as the successor. The North Irishman handled the team during the 2021 qualifiers [tournament pushed to 2022 due to coronavirus pandemic] but was relieved of his duties along the way under unclear circumstances.
Fufa instead, decided that Mckinstry’s assistants Abdallah Mubiru and Mbabazi Livingston take on the team through out the remaining fixtures but on interim basis.
To cut the long story short, Uganda failed to make what could have been a third consecutive appearance at the biannual football event. They lost against South Sudan and Malawi (away)as well as drawing against Burkina Faso at the St Mary’s stadium in Kitende.
Eventually, the man who took the country to the promised land after such a long time returned. Micho, who fondly refers to himself as the Serbian Wolf is currently in camp preparing the boys to take on Mali on Monday in a 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier.
Uganda started the road to Qatar with a goalless draw against Cecafa rivals Kenya while Mali beat Rwanda 1-0 to top group E.
Will the Serbian be the first coach to take the Cranes to their first ever world cup finals? Your guess is as good as mine.