Tournament football permutations are not convoluted mathematical equations.
Beat Zambia tonight in the opening game and Uganda will have enhanced its chances of advancement to the quarter finals twofold, lose and Cranes will have diminished its hopes of making the last eight twofold.
The showdown at Stade de Marrakech is arguably Uganda’s most important match at the tournament because it will set the tone for Cranes’ hopes and expectations in Morocco.
It helps that Zambia are a familiar opponent for Cranes and new coach Sebastien Desabre.
“I know Zambia very well,” said Sebastien before acknowledging the significance of the Groub Opener.
“The first game is always important.”
At the 2016 Chan tournament in Rwanda, Cranes drew 2-2 with Mali in the opening game and never quite recovered from a stuttering start.
A defeat to Zambia through a Chris Katongo goal in the second game set Uganda on the exit path that was confirmed once Cranes drew with Zimbabwe in the final group game.
Bernard Muwanga and Muzamir Mutyaba are some of the survivors from the last Chan loss to Zambia in Gisenyi and their experience will be key against the southern Africans whose big tournament temperament is well-documented.
Seeing how Zambia’s last encounter against Cranes was a 1-0 win at Namboole in the week Uganda beat Comoros at Namboole to qualify for Afcon 2017, it is all too clear that Cranes are facing a familiar opponent against whom success has been rare.
Six years ago Uganda took on Zambia on home and away basis in the race to qualify for the 2013 Afcon in South Africa and Cranes exited in a tense shoot-out at Namboole after a 1-1 aggregate tie.
Cranes will thus know what to expect of Zambia, whose crisp passing and decent ball management has been an identity built over the years.
That former Zambia FA president and football legend Kalusha Bwalya played a critical role in the recruitment of Sebastien is a sub-plot of its own ahead of a key Group B affair.
Guinea-Sudan is the first match today to be followed by Ivory Coast-Namibia, a match Sebastien and his charges will follow closely considering that they are Uganda’s next opponents.
Today’s Chan 2018 games
All matches on Supersport
Guinea vs Sudan 5:30pm
Ivory Coast vs Namibia 7:30pm
Zambia vs Uganda 10:30pm