Uganda Cranes’ journey to the 31st edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Gabon could possibly have reminded physicians and many scientists of Thomas Edison, the inventor of the now famous filament electric bulb.
The year was 1879 when Edison while at a home-made laboratory tried on 99 unsuccessful attempts to light up a bulb before he eventually succeeded on the 100th attempt.
Since 1978, when Uganda Cranes lost 2-0 during the final to home side Ghana in Accra, the CECAFA giants have been soul searching for a return to the greatest continental football event, but in vain.
The journey was often punctuated by near misses, real tears, regrets, mud sling, sabotage, blame games, sheer bad omen, poor performances, ill preparations and all sorts of typical agony tales to tell home.
For a reason or another, the different regimes at FUFA since 1978 kept going and never gave up until Moses Magogo engineered the campaign that that was code named ‘Mujje Tulumbe’.
Like Robert F. Kennedy remarkably quoted ‘Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly’, Uganda tried until the 4th September 2016 when Faruku Miya’s goal saw off Comoros’ brave show before a fully packed Nelson Mandela National stadium to book the Uganda Cranes a ticket to Gabon.
Kawowo Sports’ David Isabirye followed the team’s preparations right from home and covered all the 3 matches in Gabon.
Here are the 15 key talking points from Kampala preparations, to the training camps, in Gabon and back home:
1 – Relatively sound preparations:
Prior to the tournament itself in Gabon, the Uganda Cranes had a relatively fair preparatory platform.
Head coach, Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredejovic prepared a road map that was endorsed and passed by the technical department and only awaited implementation.
Until the 11th hour, questions lingered whether the team would make the planned foreign training camps planned.
Yes, the team managed to travel and first settled in Tunisia, losing 2-0 to the Carthage Eagles in an international friendly.
Then, they proceeded to the United Arab Emirates – playing against Slovenia, Slovakia, a UAE based club and Ivory Coast.
After the camps, the team flew to Gabon with the 23 man squad and 12 officials ready for the mission at hand.
2 – Opening day loss:
Uganda Cranes fell to Ghana Black Stars 1-0 courtesy of an Andre Ayew penalty that followed a foul on team captain Asamoah Gyan by Isaac Isinde.
In fact, Micho attributed the loss to stage fright, arising from inexperience of not playing at the biggest stage in a long while.
The loss was a total whip on the confidence and team morale for the rest of the tournament.
3 – Oozing Confidence and determination:
Despite the opening day loss, the confidence levels remained high among the players, technical staff and other FUFA officials who traveled in Gabon.
Majority of those interviewed prior to the Egypt game showed potential of room to improve.
Even after the Egypt match where Uganda succumbed to a late-late goal, there were positive thoughts in the final game and it did show.
Uganda took the lead against Mali, only to squander the opportunity a few minutes later when Yves Bissouma cracked home a free-kick from over 30 yards past the wall and goalkeeper Robert Odongokara.
For all the matches, the players, officials and fans remained positive.
4 – Aucho and Jjuuko absence:
Midfielder Khalid Aucho and Murushid Jjuuko did not take part in the Uganda Cranes’ opening match against Ghana Black Stars.
This was because of the accumulated cautions picked in the 2017 AFCON qualification process.
The duo’s absence was dearly missed. They ably fitted into the team upon return and displayed a great performance.
5 – Speaker Kadaga’s visit:
The speaker of the national parliament, Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga visited the team at their home, Hotel Du Parc hours to the game against Egypt.
She delivered a cheque worth Ug.Shs 224.500.000, the total amount collected by members of parliament.
Kadaga met the players and officials in a crowded room at Hotel Du Parc as she wished them luck.
She was flanked by the Minister of State for Sports Hon Charles Bakabulindi, Uganda’s Ambassador to Congo, Gabon, Cameroon and Central African Republic James Kinobe, several members of Parliament Moses Kasibante, Connie Nakayenze, Elijah Okupa, Anita Among, Maureen Lanyero, Allan Ssewanyana Thomas Tayebwa, Patrick Isiagi Opolot, Al Hajji Muhammed Nsereko and Peter Ogwang.
She then handed over a dummy cheque to the team captain Geofrey Massa as the players and officials applauded.
6 – Egypt loss blurred the excitement:
When the Uganda Cranes faced Egypt in the second Group D match, they played arguably their best match at AFCON 2017.
With half chances missed from Luwagga and Miya, the resistance continued until the 88th minute when the Pharaohs launched a quick counter attack and broke the Uganda Cranes’ resistance.
Uganda Cranes was officially announced as the first country out of AFCON 2017.
The remaining match against Mali would be played for pride.
7 – Micho the Tinker man:
Tournaments as Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) come forth with their own demands and expectations.
Uganda Cranes head coach for obvious reasons used three different line ups in all the games played at AFCON 2017.
Uganda Cranes XI Vs Ghana: Dennis Onyango, Dennis Iguma, Joseph Ochaya, Isaac Isinde, Hassan Wasswa Mawanda, Tonny Mawejje, Geofrey ‘Baba’ Kizito, Michael Azira, Faruku Miya, William Luwaga Kizito, Geoffrey Massa (Captain)
45′ Moses Oloya replaced Michael Azira
59′ Muhammed Shaban replaced William Luwagga Kizito
69′ Geofrey Sserunkuma replaced Isaac Isinde
Subs Not Used: Robert Odongkara (G.K), Yunus Junior Sentamu, Nico Wadada Wakiro, Godfrey Walusimbi, Salim Omar Magoola (G.K), Timothy Dennis Awany, Shafiq Batambuze
Not available For Selection: Khalid Aucho and Murushid Juuko (Suspended after accumulated yellow cards in the qualifiers)
Uganda Cranes XI Vs Egypt: Dennis Onyango (GK), Dennis Iguma, Godfrey Walusimbi, Hassan Wasswa Mawanda, Murushid Juuko, Khalid Aucho, Geofrey ‘Baba’ Kizito, Tonny Mawejje, Faruku Miya, Geofrey Massa (Capt), Joseph Ochaya
65’ Muhammad Shaban Replaced Geoffrey Massa
81’ Nico Wiko Wadada Replaced Faruku Miya
90’ Moses Oloya Replaced Denis Iguma
Subs Not Used: Robert Odongkara (G.K), Isaac Isinde, Sentamu Junior Yunus, Geofrey Sserunkuma, William Luwagga Kizito, Moses Oloya, Salim Omar Magoola (G.K), Shafiq Batambuze, Michael Azira
Uganda Cranes XI Vs Mali: Dennis Odongkara (G.K), Dennis Iguma, Godfrey ‘Jajja Walu’ Walusimbi, Hassan Wasswa Mawanda, Murushid Jjuuko, Geofrey ‘Baba’ Kizito, Khalid Aucho, Moses Oloya, William Luwaga Kizito, Faruku Miya and Joseph Ochaya.
59’ Moses Oloya Out, Tonny Mawejje On
76′ William Luwagga Kizito Out, Geofrey Massa On
90’ Aucho Khalid Out, Michael Azira On
Subs Not Used:
Salim Omar Magoola (G.K), Isaac Isinde, Yunus Junior Sentamu, Geofrey Sserunkuma, Nico Wakiro Wadada, Muhammad Shaban, Shafiq Batambuze
Injured: Timothy Dennis Awany and Denis Onyango (G.K)
8 – Fans loyalty:
Seldom will one notice a unified nation than when Uganda Cranes is playing.
Almost all Ugandans (save for a few minority group) were donned in the traditional black, yellow, red national colours every time the Cranes were in action.
For the fans who traveled by which ever means to Gabon did a great job as they chorused chants of praise, glorification and support throughout the three matches.
In fact one of Uganda Cranes fans, Kassim Kyazze was voted as the fan of the match in the game against Egypt.
9- Transfer from Port Gentil to Oyem via Bitam
After the team’s opening two games at Stade De Port Gentil, the team was air lifted courtesy of a COCAN domestic flight from Port Gentil Airport to Oyem.
Upon reaching Oyem, they were driven close to 80KM to Bitam town and checked in at Hotel Benedicta.
10 – Miya’s goal, Uganda’s first point since 1978:
Cometh the hour, cometh the moment. I will live to remember that move orchestrated by Denis Iguma on the right on a very wet turf at Stade D’Oyem.
Faruku Miya received the ball and did not hesitate to go for goal.
His strike that made headlines across the globe was voted as the CNN goal of the week during that time.
It was Uganda’s first goal at AFCON since 1978, in 39 years.
The goal secured the Uganda Cranes a point against a very physical Mali outfit.
11- Miya named Total Man of the match:
Following an all-round performance against Mali and the stunning goal, CAF voted Faruku Miya as the Total man of the match.
He joined the ‘A’ class of other 24 players who scooped the award in the group stage matches.
Others were; Zezinho (Guinea Bissau), Alain Traore (Burkina Faso), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Abdoulaye Diallo (Senegal), Atakora Lalawele (Togo), M’bark Boussoufa (Morocco), Christian Atsu (Ghana), Moussa Marega (Mali), Denis Bouanga (Gabon), Christian Bassogog (Cameroon), Youssef Msakni (Tunisia), Cheikhou Kouyate (Senegal), Geoffroy Serey Dié (Côte d’Ivoire), Fayçal Fajr (Morocco), Thomas Partey (Ghana), Abdallah El Saïd (Egypt), Denis Bouanga (Gabon), Prejuce Nakoulma (Burkina Faso), Islam Slimani (Algeria), Yacine Khenissi (Tunisia), Salomon Kalou (Côte d’Ivoire), Junior Kabananga (DR Congo) and Ahmed Hegazy (Egypt).
12 – Disgraceful row on jerseys:
There was a minor row on the playing jerseys between the players and some of the FUFA officials.
Although this was quickly averted and put down the drain, it stained the management, character and conduct of players more so; it came hours before the Mali game.
The players according to the FUFA publicist, Ahmed Hussein were given four sets of jerseys as FUFA pleaded with them to remain with two sets that would be branded for the key stake holders – sponsors, delegates, Government officials inclusive.
13 – Luwaga – Micho issue:
In the match against Mali, play maker William Luwagga Kizito was substituted with 14 minutes to play.
He seemed to have loved to play until the end and from the gesture as he moved out to sit on the bench, it showed.
He refused to handshake with neither the on-coming Geofrey Massa nor the head coach.
Although he later apologized to Massa, he has since failed to be remorseful to the coach.
It beats everyone’s understanding how a professional player of Luwagga’s stature has failed to mature and realize players are granted playing time and later withdrawn if need be.
I still believe, that can easily be solved ahead of the Uganda Cranes’ future competitions.
14 – Onyango and Massa appointed CAF Health ambassadors:
Goalkeeper Denis Onyango and team captain Geofrey Massa cracked a juicy deal with CAF in conjunction with the health partner Africa United and the World Health Organization to promote the vaccination campaign across Africa.
Onyango and Massa were joined by Liberia’s striker Anthony Laffor for the campaign whose monetary attachment was well valued though never revealed.
Addressing the media at the Raddison Blu Hotel in Libreville, Gabon, the representative of the Africa United and World Health Organization, Hama Sambo Boureima told the media that they centered on football to promote the campaign because of its powerful nature in mobilizing masses.
“Football is a powerful tool in mobilization and this is the reason we chose these football heroes. In Africa we face a lot of challenges and diseases that can be preventable through immunization.
We are very grateful for CAF for their generosity and social responsibility cause”
The campaign is code named ‘Every Shot Counts’.
15 – Heroes welcome back home:
The team left Bitam for Oyem by road, a 50 road journey.
They checked in at Oyem Airport before they connected to Leon Mba international Airport in Libreville.
At Libreville, they connected to Ethiopian Airways by 2 p.m (local time) with a stop-over in Addis Ababa.
They touched down at Entebbe International well after mid-night only to be received by a multitude of fans who included the FUFA CEO, Edgar Watson, first Vice President Justus Mugisha, family members, friends and ordinary Uganda Cranes fans.
It was so touching to see fans that late in the night welcoming back the team that had only secured a point and a goal.