Saluting Cranes heroes of ‘78 Nations Cup final

The year 1978 will always be special in Ugandan football. The Uganda Cranes reached the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) final and despite losing 2-0 to the hosting nation Ghana, that match remains Uganda’s main achievement in the world football so far.

Saturday March 26 2016

BEST EVER: From L-R: Jimmy Kirunda, Paul Ssali,

BEST EVER: From L-R: Jimmy Kirunda, Paul Ssali, Tom Lwanga, Moses Nsereko (RIP), Eddie Ssemwanga (RIP), Abbey Nasur, Sam Musenze (RIP), Godfrey Kisitu (RIP), Phillip Omondi (RIP), Mike Kiganda (RIP), Fred Isabirye (RIP) line up before the final against Ghana. 

Jimmy Kirunda (KCC): Nicknamed ‘The Kaizer’ after German great, Franz Beckenbauer, Kirunda was the team captain. To some, he is the best defender to have donned a Uganda Cranes jersey. So talented that he could also play as a forward, as his 32 league goals in 1978 attest. His goal against Ethiopia in 1977 sent Uganda through to the continental tourney. He played in three Afcon tournaments (1974, 1976 and 1978). Kirunda is one of the Cranes’ most decorated players with five Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup championships. As a coach, he handled Bell FC, Buikwe and Cooperative FC. He is currently into private business.

Paul Ssali (Army): His performances for Masindi Artillery Regiment in the 1972 Inter-Battalion competitions led him to joining Army FC (currently Simba), winning the 1977 Uganda Cup and 1978 league. He made his Cranes debut at the 1976 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in Zanzibar. When Iddi Amin’s regime fell in 1979, Ssali was one of the sportsmen jailed until 1981. He joined KCC in 1982, winning two league titles, three Uganda Cups and retired in 1988. He has coached KCC FC, Mkungwa FC (Rwanda), the She Kobs, Uganda Cranes and Uganda Lions. He is a coaches’ delegate in the Fufa Assembly and also sits on the Fufa technical committee. Ssali is also a politician.

Tom Lwanga (KCC): He was Kirunda’s partner in central defence for club and country. He made his Cranes debut in 1975 and played at the 1976 Afcon. In 1979, he joined UAE’s Ras al Khaim for professional football before returning to KCC in 1982. He retired from the Cranes in 1984. At KCC, Lwanga won three league titles and two Uganda Cup titles. He coached them to the league titles in 1991 and 1997 and a Uganda Cup in 1990. Lwanga is a CAF A Coaching License holder. He is currently into private business and remains one of the most respected local ex-internationals.

Moses Nsereko (KCC): Nicknamed ‘Master Planner’ for his intelligence in midfield. His Cranes debut came in 1973. He was part of team at the 1974 Afcon tournament in Egypt. In 1979, he was appointed KCC coach/player and won the Uganda Cup. He retired from the national team in 1982 with three Cecafa Senior Challenge trophies. At KCC, he won five league titles, three Uganda Cups and the 1978 Cecafa Club Championship. He shot dead in 1991.

Eddie Ssemwanga (Maroons): A right-back whose work rate and hard shots made him a dreaded opponent. Ssemwanga scored in Uganda’s 3-1 victory over Congo-Brazzaville. He won the Cecafa in 1973, 1976 and 1977. He died in 1994.

Abbey Nasur (Maroons): He could play on both wings and the frontline. He was also part of the 1974 Afcon team. In 1978, he scored against Nigeria in the semi-finals. After Iddi Amin’s fall, Nasur fled to Kenya, where he revived his career with Gor Mahia. He currently lives in Naguru.

Sam Musenze: He spent 13 years at KCC and nine of those as a captain, hence the ‘Life Captain’ nickname. He won two Cecafa Senior Challenge Championships before retiring in 1982. He passed away in January 1994.

Godfrey Kisitu (Army): He formed a formidable partnership with Philip Omondi that pushed Polly Ouma to the sidelines. Kisitu scored against Congo-Brazzaville and Morocco. He won four league titles, three Uganda Cup titles and one Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup.

Philip Omondi (KCC): He was the tournament’s top scorer with four goals. Omondi is said to be Uganda’s best, ever. This was his third continental appearance after 1974 and 1976. In Ghana, he scored against Congo-Brazzaville, Morocco and Nigeria. Unfortunately, he could not weave his magic against Ghana in the finals and Cranes lost 2-0. He passed away in April 1999. KCC’s ground in Lugogo is named in his honour.

Mike Kiganda (Express): Nicknamed ‘Computer’ because of his footballing brains and trickery. He was also part of the 1976 team in Ethiopia. Kiganda passed away in August 1985.

Fred Isabirye (Army): When Dennis Obua was dropped for indiscipline, Coach Peter Okee brought in Isabirye as replacement. He was a trained soldier and died during the war that toppled Iddi Amin in 1979.