Uganda vs Mauritania
A lot has been made of Uganda’s lackadaisical performance and the inability to score against Malawi in a friendly match on Tuesday, justifiably so, but past experiences tell us that it is not an occurrence to suggest failure tomorrow or give Mauritania too much hope.
That we rarely (if ever) play football kind on the eye and struggle to create is an inherent cultural problem which is not going to be solved by change of coaches, a few training sessions and a friendly match as we all know.
It is a discussion for another day and not the eve of a qualifier, and it hasn’t stopped us from winning matches likes these ones in the interim anyway.
The causes for optimism include the fact that, because of the timing, this one comes after the longest period the Uganda Cranes have prepared together for a match of this kind in memory.
That Nile Special inspired playing-tour of the country and the two friendlies soon after will hold the team in good stead when it matters most tomorrow.
While there are genuine reasons for caution and even worry, there is also a burning need to dispense with the negative energy we brew as a nation, consciously and subconsciously.
It is why I will never call for a Cranes loss or draw against opposition of Mauritania’s calibre and will (as I always have) walk into Namboole expecting us to win and believing without a sinew of doubt that we will; after all there is a reason we all sighed with relief when Equatorial Guinea were ejected from the competition by CAF.
Between them Geoffrey Massa, Emma Okwi, Brian Umony, Hamis Kiiza, Yunus Sentamu and the new kid Farouk Miya should come up with a goal or a couple, whichever of them coach Micho chooses to field.
It is paramount that The Cranes keep a clean sheet if they are to give themselves a chance of joining what would be a great group to help continue the team’s development - one with Ghana, Togo and Guinea - for the return leg in Nouakchott will come with the usual vast challenges.
Congo vs Rwanda
Rwanda were quite impressive in eliminating Libya, getting a draw away from home before running riot at the Amahoro.
Libya’s home game was not in Tripoli however, and it is going to be much harder for them to emulate the same feat in Brazzaville, although they can still pull off qualification after two legs. Home win
Benin vs Malawi
To get here Malawi squeezed through with an away goal against Chad, and they are going to need another goal on the road against much better opposition if they are to leave themselves with a chance to reach the group phases.
They couldn’t get one in the friendly against Uganda under significantly less pressure in a near-empty Namboole on Tuesday, and will definitely find it harder to get it in a more hostile environment in Port-Novo.
Lesotho vs Kenya
While Lesotho were quite impressive in knocking out Liberia, Kenya made hard work of bettering the Comoros Islands, their inability to score more than a single goal in either leg quite puzzling.
But the Harambee Stars have since been sent to watch the World Cup and will hope that bearing witness to a tournament during which it rained goals will rub off on them, although once again they will need someone else to emulate those feats in Brazil as Dennis Oliech (sigh, yawn etc) is not likely to be that man.
Sierra Leone vs Seychelles
The battle to join the group of death falls to these two, as Cameroon, the DR Congo and the Ivory Coast await the winner of this tie.
Sierra Leone’s preparations have been rocked by a match-fixing scandal from six years ago that has caught with several members of the current squad and caused chaos in their camp.
Had they been faced with stronger opposition, Sierra Leone would have lost this one even in Freetown; but Seychelles who got a bye to this round and struggled in friendlies against Uganda recently are perhaps not the kind to exploit that situation.
Tanzania vs Mozambique
Mozambique are not easy opposition, but since they could not score away in South Sudan in the previous round it is not likely that they can then go and do that in Dar-es-Salaam, where Tanzania enjoy fanatical home support and have quite a decent current team led by strikers Bocco and Ulimwengu.
Botswana vs Guinea Bissau
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