In my second of the three-part series about Uganda at the Nations Cup, I revisit The Cranes’ memorable run to the 1974 and 1976 tournaments.
Between 1968 and 1972, The Cranes went through a transition period after the arrival of German tactician Bukhard Pape, who modified the team’s approach, style and emphasized the promotion of youthful players.
Uganda drew Cameroon for the 1970 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, but the team failed to live up to expectations. The first leg in Kampala, in August 1969, ended 1-1, before Uganda lost 0-2 in Yaoundé in the return leg.
Cameroon reached the final qualification stage and ejected Zambia to book a berth at the tournament that was hosted by Sudan. The Cranes’ failure to qualify cost coach Robert Kiberu his job. This also followed the outburst he had with goalkeeper Joseph Masajjage, who accused him of employing outdated tactics. At that time, Fufa, under Henry Balamaze Lwanga (RIP), acted fast and appointed German tactician Bukhard Pape as the new Cranes boss, while Kiberu was demoted to the national youth team.
Pape’s philosophy was that for the nation to have a strong national team, the youth programmes had to be functioning because that was the only way of having sustainable reinforcement for the senior team.
In the course of ushering in the new Pape regime, Uganda also missed out on the 1972 Afcon. But many of the great names to grace Ugandan football graduated from this national youth squad. They included Ashe Mukasa, Timothy Ayiekoh, Moses Nsereko, George Mukasa, Wilson Nsobya, Abbey Nasur, Stanley Mubiru “Tank”, Mike Kiganda, Phillip Omondi and Billy Kizito.
And their climb to greatness began at the 1974 Afcon, the ninth edition of the tournament. It was hosted by Egypt. During the qualifiers in August 1973, Uganda tore apart Somalia 5-0 in the first leg before registering a convincing 2-0 win in Mogadishu. Up next was Kenya. In the home leg, The Cranes, captained by Polly Ouma, won 1-0, before winning in Nairobi too, 2-1. Uganda then drew Algeria, in the October 1973 encounter.
At Nakivubo, Ashe Mukasa and Denis Obua put the Cranes in the driving seat with a 2-1 win. Although this looked a good scoreline for Algeria, Pape’s team was unstoppable. For the return leg in Algeria, the visitors pulled off a 1-1 draw, courtesy of a great equaliser from Ouma. However, before the March 1974 event, coach Pape left the country and left David Otti in charge. Otti started his reign by guiding Uganda to the 1973 Cecafa Cup.
But before the team left for the Afcon, Fufa appointed German coach Westhoff Otto as Cranes coach. Otto started off by rocking the team’s boat, when he dropped skipper Ouma for alleged indiscipline. Centre-back Jimmy Kirunda was appointed Cranes Captain henceforth. Otto also dropped aged players and elevated other players from the national youth side like Ahmed Doka, Eddie Semwanga (RIP), Francis Kulabigwo, Ali Sendegeya and Patrick Natan (RIP).
While at the Afcon, although Egypt came from a goal down to beat The Cranes 2-1, the youthful Cranes showed character when they drew 2-2 with Ivory Coast in their second game before losing 1-0 to Zambia in their last group game.
Despite not progressing to the knock-out stage, Cranes were proud to see a youngster Stanley Mubiru “Tank” score all three goals for the team in the tournament. He showed a lot of promise as a flying winger in the first eleven. In retrospect, Nasur, who was part of this squad, says this was a formidable side that was groomed by a fantastic coach in Pape.
Fast forward, before the 1976 Afcon, Otto was axed and Otti bounced back, with Bidandi Ssali as Team Manager. The “duo” helped Cranes to qualify. They beat Mauritius 4-0 in the first leg at Nakivubo before drawing 1-1 away in September 1975. Cranes then faced Zambia in the final qualification round. The Cranes lost 1-2, something that caused panic in the camp.
Otti then decided to recall Ouma, who had retired, to boost The Cranes striking line. With the tie at Nakivubo locked at 0-0, Ouma was introduced in the second half. He lived up to the proverbial cometh the hour, cometh the man cliché with a wonderful opening goal that was followed by two special finishes by Omondi and Barnabas Mwesiga. The Cranes qualified on a 4-2 aggregate scoreline.
In Addis Ababa, The Cranes were dominated by the youthful players that Pape had helped groom. Jimmy Muguwa, Tom Lwanga, Mike Kiganda (RIP), Hussein Matovu, Gerald Kabaireho, Leo Adraa, Moses Nsereko (RIP), William Mindrea (RIP) and Billy Kizito (RIP) among others were in that lot.
They were joined by survivors from the 1974 squad: Jimmy Kirunda, Sendegeya, Obua (RIP) Mubiru (RIP), Kulabigwo, Ashe Mukasa, Semwanga (RIP), Abbey Nasur and Ouma who had just returned in the Cranes stables. Uganda lost all the three group stage games. They lost 0-2 to Ethiopia before Egypt and Guinea subjected them to 2-1 defeats.
The 1976 Afcon was a real hot bed for Cranes. Tom Lwanga, one of Cranes defenders at that Championship, says the team played tough opponents but he heavily blamed the results on the usage of unfamiliar tactics, which exposed the defence.
The author is Director Marketing & Promotions, The Observer Media Ltd.