The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) precursor - the 2020 African Nations Championship (Chan) - gets underway in Cameroon on April 4 through 25 with Uganda making their fifth straight appearance.
And for the umpteenth time, the Cranes will be looking to shake off failure to progress from the group stage having debuted in this home-based tournament in 2011.
Here in Group C, where the top two will progress to the quarterfinals, Uganda will fight it out against defending champions Morocco, neighbours Rwanda, and debutants Togo. Let’s get a lowdown on the four.
The headline of this piece puts Uganda on the ‘experienced’ column. Since this only home-based players Cup of Nations was established in 2009, the Cranes have missed only one - the inaugural which was held in Ivory Coast. Uganda have since graced the 2011 edition in Sudan, 2014 in South Africa, 2016 in Rwanda and 2018 in Morocco. That is the experience... Of appearances.
However, it is time Uganda turned that experience into something more meaningful, some evolvement. “Our overall ambition is we’ve got to get out of the group stage,” admitted Uganda coach Johnny McKinstry, who also gave insight into why he thinks the Cranes have failed in the past. “Before the finals come around,” he explained, “A number of the players who played as part of the qualification process, have already left. But this team largely remains in tact. So - we believe we’re in a good position.
We go into the tournament ready for it and looking to take that next step into the quarter-finals and hopefully beyond.” While the larger body of the team remains in tact, their creative spark in Allan Okello, and striker Joel Madondo have since moved. Although the duo will be missed, this provides a chance for other players to grab. The Cranes have a chance.
Morocco Atlas Lions
You do not need to look far to know who the sheriff in town is. And he means business. Morocco have needed only three appearances to make waves, reaching the quarterfinals in their first in 2014 (they beat Uganda in the group stages), failing to advance from the group two years later, and winning the championship on home soil in 2018. New Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodžić knows defending the title won by his predecessor Herve Renard is a duty, not an attempt, for the Atlas Lions.
The Moroccan league, alongside Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt among others have demonstrated their strength over the years by producing a winner or finalist in club continental championships annually. Actually, of the five Chan editions, three titles have been won by North African countries Morocco, Tunisia and Libya, with only DRC intervening on two occasions. Morocco are favourites to progress.
Rwanda Amavubi Stars
Rwandans, as demonstrated by their President Paul Kagame in different aspects, love a fight; call it a challenge. If it is for the flag, they will fight. And you expect the Amavubi Stars to challenge, here.
According to their former coach, who guided them to the quarterfinals of Chan 2016 on home soil, now Uganda’s teacher - McKinstry -, a good number of the current Rwanda players he gave a debut, and he believes they have the heart to push. Uganda and Rwanda are also pooled together in the 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifiers.
Rwanda, who have twice stopped in group stage, will want to have a go at the last eight once again. But with Morocco clear favourites, and Uganda in the mix, they surely have their work cut out as any Cecafa country would know.
Togo Sparrow Hawks
If the Sparrow Hawks need inspiration, they should read up on DRC, Tunisia and Libya. Only the aforementioned have won the Chan title on their tournament debut in 2009, 2011 and 2014. Togo can go into this being considered as an underdog because it is their first time.
But having perennially competed at Afcon, and made the World Cup, Morocco, Uganda and Rwanda will know too well that the conveyer belt does not lie. Togo have all the capacity to storm the top two party.
African Nations Championship
Group A: Cameroon, Mali, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe
Group B: Libya, DR Congo, Congo, Niger
Group C: Morocco, Rwanda, Togo, Uganda
Group D: Zambia, Guinea, Namibia, Tanzania
Group C fixtures, April (dates to be decided)
Morocco vs Togo
Rwanda vs Uganda
Morocco vs Rwanda
Uganda vs Togo
Uganda vs Morocco
Togo vs Rwanda