Draws for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations edition scheduled in Côte d’Ivoire were conducted a few weeks ago and Uganda was handed incredibly tough engagements after being placed in Group F alongside Algeria, Niger and Tanzania.
Uganda Cranes will go in search of the country’s eighth appearance at the continent’s biggest showpiece having been there in 1962, 1968, 1974, 1976, 1978, 2017 and 2019.
But we will have to do it the hard way following an extremely difficult group draw which requires thorough preparations, competitive players, focused Fufa and a perfect technical team.
Being in pot 2, we were always going to be drawn with a big African name but i never wanted to see ‘The desert Foxes’ and a derby opponent like Tanzania in the same group as it complicates our qualification chances.
And things got even more challenging for the Cranes when a West African nation in Niger was added to our group to complete a mouth-watering quartet of teams making it a too close to call and an intriguing qualification campaign.
The last time both Algeria and Tanzania were placed alongside Uganda in the same group, was during the 1996 South Africa qualification campaign.
Others in the same group were Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia with only the top two making it to the Afcon finals.
Against Algeria at Nakivubo Stadium, George Ssimwogerere netted our equaliser to hold the North African giants who had taken the lead through Muhammed Tesfaout while away in Algiers; Joseph Mutyaba scored a late goal to salvage a point in a 1-1 draw after Tesfaout had given the Arabs an early lead.
Tanzania took us to a soccer class with a 4-0 beating away in Dar as an Edibily Lunyamila brace aided by one a piece from John Nteze Lungu and Muhammed Salehe did the damage as Cranes totally failed to match the free scoring Kilimanjaro Stars.
During the return leg at Nakivubo, the Cranes mended face with a classic performance when Phillip Obwiny and Joseph Mutyaba scored in a comfortable 2-0 victory though it came a little bit late as both Egypt and Algeria sealed the two qualification slots with Uganda coming third hence missing out.
However, overall head to head in qualification encounters, Uganda is slightly ahead of Algeria with 2 wins, 3 draws and 1 loss in the 6 meetings against the oil rich country while in the 10 meetings with Tanzania, we again rule with 4 wins, 3 draws and 3 losses.
Against Niger, it is 2 wins, 1 draw and as many losses in the previous 4 meetings thus putting the Uganda Cranes in a favourable position ahead of the scheduled campaign kickoff in June.
We first met Niger during the Ghana 2008 Afcon qualification rounds in Dr Lawrence Mulindwa’s first campaign as Fufa President drawing 0-0 away in Niamey before David Obua’s hat trick at Namboole in the return leg, secured a 3-1 win.
It was all joy as Michael Ezra rewarded each Cranes player $5000 US dollars for the work well done after FUFA had also appreciated the lads with its own allowances as the nation remained hoping for favours elsewhere before sealing the qualification slot.
Nigeria had already taken the first automatic berth while Lesotho finished last in the group leaving Uganda to contest for one of the three available best runners up slots.
As fate would have it, South Africa which was expected to roll over Zambia in Johannesburg to boost Cranes chances, ended up on a losing note when the spirited Chipolopolo through a Chris Katongo hat trick, hammered them 3-1 thus qualifying as group winners.
Our remaining hopes were quashed by a Razak Omotoyossi inspired Benin who overcame Sierra Leone 2-0 away in Freetown hence qualifying as the second best runners up with South Africa edging Uganda to the third slot on +6 goal difference (Cranes had +5) after tying on 11 pts, Tunisia emerged as the first runners up with 13 points.
It was Niger again in the 2010 Afcon qualification group together with Benin and Angola as we tussled out for both World and nations cup slots since the campaign served the two purposes.
In a tightly contested encounter at Namboole stadium, Captain fantastic Ibrahim Sekagya netted the solitary goal in a 1-0 win before a catastrophic performance away, saw us lose 3-1 in a match we led 1-0 at half time via Obua and where even a draw was enough to sail us to the next round, we thus bowed out disgracefully.
Many Ugandans regard our qualification group as an easy one basing on the above head to head stats with the countries in contention but i beg to differ, we are in one of the hardest groups only second to the one comprising Morocco, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Liberia which is arguably the group of death.
Do i need to remind fellow Ugandans that in the previous campaign, we failed to qualify with Burkina Faso, Malawi and South Sudan as our group opponents having started strongly 0-0 away in Ouagadougou before seeing off the Flames 2-0 at Namboole?
Failing to beat South Sudan, the group whipping boys home & away yet Burkina Faso and Malawi did exactly that completely ruined our chances so let’s not count the chicks before the eggs hatch.
Caution should therefore be carried on our backs that we are in for a tough challenge if Uganda is to return to the table of African heavyweights in Ivory Coast next year.
In conclusion, thorough preparations with high profile international friendly matches on top of inviting players on merit coupled with a perfect team selection are the major values we must attend to wholesomely.
GOOD LUCK TO THE UGANDA CRANES.