Saturday March 26 2016

Turning point in Afcon pursuit for Cranes

FOCUS: Cranes strikers Emmanuel Okwi (R),

FOCUS: Cranes strikers Emmanuel Okwi (R), skipper Geoffrey Massa (2nd R), defender Isaac Isinde (L) and midfielder Luwagga Kizito (2nd L) look to score from a set piece during practice at Namboole Stadium recently. PHOTO BY EDDIE CHICCO 


Every stage in life has a turning point. That definitive moment that one can always look back as the which decided your fate or at least influenced.
Polish/Dutch scientist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit thought it wise to include that while inventing the thermometer, today an important tool in measuring temperature.
The thermometer include a hinge point or constriction. Rising mercury must hit this point then flow to confirm the actual body temperature.

Uganda Cranes face something over the next four days in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. It’s been tremendous start in group D for the 1978 Afcon finalists.
After two games, coach Micho Sredojevic’s team has garnered the maximum six points with a 2-0 home victory over Botswana and 1-0 away result on the island of Comoros.

Still in control
In touching that kind of perfection, goalkeeper Dennis Onyango saved a penalty in Comoros before midfielder Tony Mawejje scored the winner.
That will count for little now as Cranes engage Burkina Faso home and away. The first of that crucial double header is today in Ouagadougou with the return encounter here on Tuesday.
With Burkina Faso and Botswana tied on three points thus far as the latter face Comoros. Let’s drop Comoros from the race already. That implies that only three sides remain on track for Gabon 2017.
As stated earlier, you can easily trace the hinge point. For Cranes, those are many and sadly, reference can only be made to failures and not successes.

In July 1993, Adam Ssemugabi missed a penalty in goalless draw with Nigeria at Nakivubo in the penultimate round of qualification for the 1994 edition of the Nations Cup.
That rendered the 1-0 victory over Sudan irrelevant. Uganda finished on seven points, one behind one of the great Nigerian sides. So the hinge came before the climax of the campaign. It always does. Two decades later, Namboole dropped into a sea of dead silence as the national team drew goalless with Kenya on the final as Angola sneaked into the 2012 Afcon.
Many feel, and rightly so, that it was a turning point. It wasn’t. On match day five in then group J, Uganda needed only a draw in Luanda to break 34-year jinx. Instead, Cranes lost 2-0 in Angola.

The constriction was missed, totally. Perhaps, those don’t represent the final nail in the Cranes’ coffin as Ugandans will refer to more recent events in the bid to qualify for the 2015 event in Equatorial Guinea.
Having edged Madagascar on away goals’ rule in the first round, Uganda eased past Mauritania 3-0 to reach the group stage where they were placed in Group E alongside Ghana, Togo and Guinea.
Three west African sides were always going to be a daunting task. When Mawejje’s goal earned a 1-1 draw in Kumasi, the campaign had gotten off to the desired start.

Thereafter, a Geoffrey Massa brace beat Guinea 2-0 to move to four points. Only Ghana had the same tally. Then tragedy struck from the most unlikely source.
Togo, who hadn’t collected any points from 180 minutes of football, saw their double header against Uganda as the opportune time to improve their fortunes.
Donou Kokou’s goal was enough to dampen many souls here. Those were the Sparrow Hawks’ first points. But, in real sense, Uganda’s destiny was still in its own hands.

Two games equation
The return encounter in Lome three days later swung the balance significantly. The pursued became pursuers as Uganda lost by the same margin thanks to Serge Akakpo.
Those two games sealed Uganda’s fate way before the final game against Guinea which was preceded by Savio Kabugo’s winner against Ghana on match day five. This litany of examples should remind that the fate of 38 million Ugandans could be decided 10 weeks before ‘minnows’ Comoros visit Kampala on June 4 for the final game of qualifying.

Coaches and players preach focusing on the next game or result.
The next two games should mean everything and these two against the Stallions will seal Uganda’s fate.
You can get into the mathematics of the ideal number of points that Cranes’ can gather from the 2013 Afcon losing finalists as you may wish or the realities and complexities of the results.
Six points is perfect. Four is near-perfect. Two is acceptable. One would dump Uganda into a hole where seeing the sun set is only a myth.

2014 CHAN: Uganda 2-1 Burkina Faso
2006 FRIENDLY: Uganda 0-0 Burkina Faso
2005 WCQ: Uganda 2-2 Burkina Faso
2004 WCQ: Burkina Faso 2-0 Uganda.