Road to Angola: Cranes must be motivated
by Daily Monitor
The glory years of Ugandan sport are unanimously accepted to be the 1970’s. Then, Uganda produced an athletics world champion, some of the country’s finest ever footballers and a range of good boxers.
The country’s failure to scale the sporting heights of the golden period of four decades remains a mystery. David Kamoga’s bronze at the 1996 Atalanta Olympics is Uganda’s only medal at the world’s biggest games since John Akii-Bua’s 400m hurdles gold at the in Munich in 1972.
With amateur boxing stagnating, Kassim Ouma all but finished and barely any prize fighter of significance, today’s boxing is a far cry from the successful era of heyday.
The most galling disappointment has however been Cranes.
How a country of 28 million continuously succeeds in missing out on the Africa Cup of Nations is a complicated puzzle.
Since Uganda’s last qualification in 1978 and thus far, there are many worse countries that have competed at least once at the continent’s biennial showpiece.
Sierra Leone, Liberia, Namibia, Sudan and Mozambique are all ranked below Uganda but have qualified for the Nations Cup in recent years.
Uganda’s 0-0 stalemate in Luanda against Angola’s Palancas Negras has left Cranes on the threshold of qualification for the decisive group stage that will determine which teams reach the 2010 Africa Cup and the World Cup.
The point in Angola was celebrated like a monumental triumph although Cranes still has two potentially unpredictable matches against Niger and Benin.
The belief in the Cranes team is at an all time high.
After narrowly missing out on Ghana 2008 largely due to a mathematical misfortune, Uganda finally realized that it could compete favourably with Africa’s established order.
The 1-0 defeat to Nigeria in Abeokuta last March should have been a 1-1 draw but for the charlatan referee Badara Diatta. When the Super Eagles arrived in Kampala in separate batches because their famed millionaire professionals were squabbling for money, it was clear Nigeria was there for the taking.
It may not have been an exceptional performance but in coming back from John Utaka’s opener in the first half to mount a sensational comeback, Cranes showed fortitude we had not seen in years.
The players received Shs1m each from the federation for their heroic performance with the make or break trip to Lesotho a fortnight away on June 16.
Sports philanthropist Michael Ezra had already promised the team a reward of $100,000 if Uganda qualified for Ghana 2008.
All of the sudden, Cranes was a national treasure.
Just like today, MTN’s support of the national team transcended Cranes’ image and perception.
The hype and unprecedented level of expectation before Uganda’s trip to Maseru was such that the whole country closely monitored the developments in the south.
Cranes reports dominated the front page of the national dailies with the country well aware that Ghana 2008 was in sight if the team picked maximum points from the African minnows of Lesotho.
The rage caused by Ibrahim Sekagya’s last minute withdrawal from the match and the postponement of the match from June 16 to 17 simply heightened interest in the qualifier.
Cranes infamously played out a scandalous goalless draw to complicate Uganda’s chances but the mood was not lost among the fans when Niger traveled to Kampala for the very last group match.
Uganda won the contest 3-1 through a David Obua hattrick but Zambia’s unanticipated away hammering of South Africa left Uganda needing a mathematical miracle to qualify.
Ezra duly offered the national team $100,000 in appreciation for a wonderful campaign, qualification failure notwithstanding, but ‘was poignant that the players had missed out on a much higher incentive if Uganda had made it to Ghana.’