I imagine most Tanzanians don’t read Ugandan newspapers. But if they did they would be offended by the apparent lack of respect that we have afforded their national team in the lead up to the Afcon Qualifier at Namboole later today. Apart from mention of new coach Emmanuel Amunike’s (not that one) dropping of key players from Simba and Yanga, everything else about our opponents and this game has been treated with the dismissive airs one reserves for a boring neighbor.
And I see where it all comes from. Tanzania doesn’t have a distinguished record against Uganda. Admittedly we don’t play them that often and that is down to their lowly Fifa ranking and regular inability to navigate pre-qualifiers. But when our paths have crossed like in the six times over the last 11 years and they have only won once. Nonetheless, the reality is that we last played them in July 2015 and are clueless about their current capacity.
Cranes striker Emmanuel Okwi, who knows a thing or two about their football has exercised more caution than the rest of us. He thinks that their level of football isn’t as bad as history suggests and has strongly warned against underestimating them. Their lead striker Mbwana Samata has been making news in Belgium and Shaban Iddi Chilunda, who is on Tenerife’s books, isn’t shabby either. So, while the national mood has been patronising, it’s worth asking what threat Tanzania portends to our chances of qualify.
With due respect to Lesotho and Cape Verde, Uganda and Tanzania are going to look at each other in the battle for the top of Group L. And topping the group is what matters. Fall short, and one starts to get dragged in with the dark horses.
Remember Lesotho have already bagged a point away in Tanzania and will feel they have a chance. So, If the need to top the group doesn’t, then the fear of being caught by Lesotho is what will motivate Tanzania today.
And this is what should worry us – a motivated Tanzania in a home-game we can’t contemplate losing.
Yet we are hardly a role model in respect of winning when it matters, even at home. The recent games against Kenya (2012) or Togo (2014) which cost us places at Afcon, come to mind.
We also happen to be on a winless streak and are still fresh from failed World Cup qualification and Chan campaigns. We actually are in significant danger of losing the momentum that carried us to Afcon 2017 and kicked of this campaign with a win away to Cape Verde. Tanzania will be thinking it is a nice time to face Uganda.
So, I see the Taifa Stars being all respectful and happy to be called the underdog. But beneath that they will be galvanised by the need for points, their recent 2-0 win over respectable DR Congo, a new manager or even the disrespect we have shown them. This will make them dangerous and the Cranes had better tread carefully.