Kampala- By the time South African referee Daniel Bennett blows the final whistle in the early hours of tomorrow, Uganda Cranes must have garnered maximum points against Senegal if they to keep hopes of a maiden World Cup alive.
But there is a clear writing on the wall that Serbian coach Micho Sredojevic’s charges will have to break more sweat than ever to go past this second round of the 2014 Fifa Africa World Cup campaign.
While group J leaders Senegal (nine) only need a draw to progress to the decisive round, second-placed Uganda (eight) will step onto the Marrakech Stadium turf looking for nothing less a win.
Indeed, Cranes are up against high odds to beat the West Africans and they must expect a pulsating 90 minutes in this do-or-die encounter. But Micho insists no one must write them off.
“The players have got to believe in themselves and go work hard in Marrakech to get the required result,” Micho said before the Cranes left Kampala for further preparations in Botswana and later Turkey last week.
“In football, anything can happen. No one expected Senegal to beat then defending champions France at the 2002 World Cup but they won and went on to reach the quarterfinals.” he added.
Micho’s words bring back the memories of a resilient Bruno Metsu-coached team that played their hearts out enroute to usurping the big guns. That brushes off any looming worries of an impossible mission, ups the spirits of the fans and players but it does not carry away the fact that Cranes are still vulnerable prey to the Lions of Teranga.
First, history favours French coach Alain Giresse’s side. They have won one and drawn the other two of their past meets including the first leg 1-all stalemate in Kampala last year.
Uganda will be looking for their first win in this clash today but it is already an elusive task for Andrew Mwesigwa and teammates.
For a campaign that started last year, the start was dreadful under Scotsman Bobby Williamson and it took Cranes four games to earn their first victory.
Under new coach Micho in June, Uganda drew first blood with a 1-0 win over Liberia courtesy a Tonny Mawejje strike at Namboole after nerve wrecking 1-all draws away in Luanda and to Senegal as well as a disappointing 2-0 defeat away in Paynesville.
Then Micho made two in two after Mawejje’s last gasp header made it 2-1 to bury Angola a week later. Is it possible for the Cranes to script a third campaign win in a row against an experienced side?
Cranes have more to lose than Senegal has to gain. Giresse may miss his suspended top scorer Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse (four goals) and Chelsea forward Demba Ba but Cranes’ central has struggled to find stability heading into match day.
Mwesigwa needs to pass a late fitness test and he has not been guaranteed a partner since Ibrahim Sekagya’s retirement.
Needing just a point to seal the deal, Giresse could line-up a very counter attacking side. The movements of Cranes full backs Denis Guma and Godfrey Walusimbi will face serious reality checks from Moussa Sow (Fenerbahce), Dame Ndoye (Lokomotiv Moscow) and former Manchester striker Mame Diouf (Hanover).
In all their five games, both sides have managed just one clean sheet but unlike Uganda who have scored five and let in as many, Senegal have penetrated through all defences to score eight and conceded only four.
Hence, in the absence of Geoffrey Massa, the available strikers to Micho in Emmanuel Okwi, Hamis Kiiza, Frank Kalanda and Robert Ssentongo must show urgency and utilise the available chances.
There will also be enough business for midfield trio of Hassan Wasswa, Mawejje and Geoffrey Kizito to settle when they face much more exposed players Mouhamed Diamé (West Ham) and SK Bramm’s Stéphane Badji.