Last Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Egypt was the latest testament of the hypocrisy in Ugandan football.
Whereas I presume every Ugandan hoped The Cranes get at least a draw in Alexandria to maintain hopes of Russia 2018, the slender 0-1 defeat left many questioning the team’s display and approach to the game without offering tangible answers.
Age-old lamentations set in; we lack identity, we lack a creative midfielder or playmaker, we need a natural goal scorer, and so on. Granted, these deficiencies have dogged Uganda for generations and are not going to get away overnight. So, any attempt for a quick-fix work around them may take us years back.
What many critics are finding hard to believe is the fact that Uganda is now knocking on the door of African football’s elite. Since 1978, Uganda spent years disregarding World Cup qualifiers because we never had the slightest of hope.
It took until 1996 for The Cranes to make an attempt but it was also a forgettable one. Only in 2006 did we reengage in World Cup qualifiers albeit with minimal hope.
Therefore, at the moment, The Cranes have serious aspirations to upset the odds even though we don’t have a world-class player that can walk into the top European teams we normally associate with on TV.
So, what coach Moses Basena and company are doing is utilizing the best of the crop they have at their disposal.
However, therein lies Uganda’s biggest strength that often elevates us when facing the continent’s elite. In Dennis Onyango, we have the continent’s top goalie and he has conceded just one goal in 540 minutes of the ongoing World Cup campaign.
Apart from him, the rest are equals because there is no outstanding outfield player, something that I’m sure confuses our opponents’ tactical setup.
In the Namboole tie of the double-header, Basena set out to nullify danger man Mohammed Salah and it paid dividends. In Alexandria, however, you may have noted how Egyptians failed to stamp their authority on the match.
They simply didn’t have the nous about who to penetrate the midfield. There were even moments in the match when the hosts seemed bewildered at their inability to break down The Cranes’ backline so much that the Pharaohs resorted to the safety-first approach.
So, we always know what to expect but our opponents are always trying to figure us out. I don’t think Egyptian coach Hector Cuper knew other Cranes players apart from Onyango, of course.
Put simply, it may take some time before a Cranes player features in the top five European leagues but that shouldn’t worry us so much, as long as we have the capacity to grind out results.
What we miss when faced with the best level of competition is belief that we can win. You may have realized during the Nations Cup early in January that The Cranes matched this
same Egyptian side and Ghana yet the players seemed satisfied with the identical 0-1 losses.
If only the players had a winning mentality, we would have had a fairytale run. Already, the overriding talk on the continent is that Uganda is punching above its weight in this World Cup qualification group that also includes Ghana and already-eliminated Congo.
Can The Cranes go on to do the unthinkable and qualify for the World Cup? Absolutely! Do the players have the mental fortitude to do it? I highly doubt.
After all, they have exceeded expectations by scaling heights no Cranes team has done in almost four decades. However, with some extra belief, this Cranes team can defeat Ghana and Congo and qualify if other results go their way.
In 2015, Fufa boss Moses Magogo set up a roadmap to take Uganda to the 2019 Nations Cup. At the time, it seemed like a pipe dream given the transition period the team was going through.
Four years down the road after qualifying for the 2017 edition, anything short of qualification for the 2019 Nations Cup show- piece in Cameroon will be seen as a disaster for Magogo and his administration.
That shows how high the bar has been set over the last few years. Therefore, I believe our players have what it takes to match the continent’s best but our limited ambitions make it an uphill task.
The match against Ghana on October 7 at Namboole stadium will go a long way to answer that.
The author is operations director of The Observer Media Ltd.