Last Saturday, left back Godfrey Walusimbi ventured into unknown territory when he started Uganda’s 2012 Nations Cup qualifier against Angola.
Filling in for Nestory Kizito, who has made the number his own for more than eight years, it was always going to be an insurmountable challenge. Like many youngsters making career strides, Walusimbi felt tension as the game drew nigh.
“In the days running up to the game, I felt easy and relaxed. But when the sun rose on Saturday, I realised the time had come; the moment of truth to prove my worth,” he says.
Nicknamed Jajja Walu by teammates or Wazza, as he is commonly referred to by his Cranes coach Bobby Williamson, Walusimbi says that although he had played for The Cranes before – during the Cecafa Cup and the African Nations Championship (Chan) qualifiers, the Angola game had more at stake and it was a debut of sorts for him.
Added to the fact that everyone was dying to see Uganda play at the Africa Cup of Nations, the last appearance being in 1978, there was no room for error. With that going through his mind, he was a bit nervous and feared the worst in case The Cranes faltered.
For Walusimbi, it was as if he had been transported back to that January 18th day of 2008, when he debut for SC Villa against KCC FC at Namboole stadium.
The match was preceded with a brief downpour that made the turf slippery. He got a baptism of fire after just 10 minutes when his poor back-pass was intercepted by Hamis Kitagenda to put KCC ahead.
“Man…that was a terrible time for me. I felt like running off the field and I was scared of what would happen to me if we lost but Mike Azira comforted me,” he says.
Thankfully, the teammates saved his blushes as Villa won 3-2
Ironically, there was another short spell of rain before the Angola match and Walusimbi couldn’t help but wonder whether lightning could strike twice. But Kizito had already prepared him psychologically throughout the training.
“Kizito kept phoning me and telling me that I was good. That coming from him was motivating,” he says. And by the end of the pre-match warm-up, the nerves had gone.
In addition, the thought of playing alongside Ibrahim Sekagya and David Obua, players he has watched since he was a small boy gave him excitement and confidence in equal measure.
But most importantly, he says that Obua kept telling him of how deadly Djalma, the Angolan winger, was. “In my mind, I said, if he’s that good, he will have to beat me first. But the moment I got the better of him first, I had no nerves but enjoyed myself,” he says.
He certainly enjoyed himself if his first touches and good inter-passing with Sekagya was anything to go by. So confident was Walusimbi that he often ventured forward. Despite his relentless overlaps, he was quick to retreat and hardly gave Job or Djalma any breathing space.
While Kizito would have been proud of his understudy, Williamson is faced with a conundrum on who will be his first choice left-back.