There appears to be a general consensus that it will be an embarrassing spectacle should Uganda fail to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations or Afcon finals.
A winning start away to Cape Verde’s Blue Sharks in Praia coupled with the fact that two teams now automatically qualify to the big time had many Cranes fans swelling with pride. They sensed that something special was beckoning.
While drawing a blank at home to Tanzania hasn’t dampened spirits — certainly not in the Doomsday manner some observers have painstakingly described — there’s no doubt that the recent modest progress under Sébastien Desabre sits uneasily with many Cranes fans.
The Frenchman has often been accused, with some justice, of making terrible decisions. His reluctance to admit to mistakes of fielding two defensive midfielders against seemingly weak opposition (read Tanzania) has particularly not played well to the wide audience.
Indeed, a palpable lack of boldness from Desabre has inflicted the damage it is expected to. But could things be about to change after upstarts Julius Poloto and Allan Okello were named to the provisional squad for the upcoming 2019 Afcon qualifying doubleheader with Lesotho? If this isn’t bold enough, then dropping attackers William Kizito Luwagga and Yunus Ssentamu definitely is.
Desabre appreciates the significance of the double-header set to be played out in a space of few days during the second weekend and third week of this month. Any slip-ups will have catastrophic consequences.
What makes things more fascinating is that Lesotho is not the cannon fodder that the Cranes faced in September of 2006 and June of 2007.
Uganda thrashed the team known to its fans as Likuena 3-0 in a 2008 Afcon qualifier on the back of Geoffrey Massa’s stunning brace.
Your columnist travelled to Lesotho’s sleepy capital of Maseru for the reverse fixture in June of 2007. The Cranes were riding on a crest of optimism following a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Nigeria. Not many gave Lesotho a chance.
Mark this, not even the locals in Maseru! They seemed more interested in the fortunes of South Africa’s Bafana Bafana than those of their own national team! Yet despite all of this, the Cranes contrived to snatch a goalless draw from the jaws of victory.
Uganda would go on to finish second in a qualifying group that also included Nigeria and Niger.
So, just like Lesotho who held the wooden spoon in the group, the Cranes failed to make the grade for the 2008 Afcon finals.
A little over a decade on, with two 2019 Afcon finals berths up for grabs, both countries aren’t in doubt about the rich rewards of negotiating their upcoming doubleheader with great distinction.
It will be pivotal as the road to Cameroon 2019 becomes more clear.
Refs could do with a system of reward, punishment
Last season, the optics for referees in Uganda’s topflight football league were bafflingly bad.
So bad that many of them could not disguise their mediocrity as teams in the relegation scrap did however they could to beat the drop. It was not that the referees were out of their depth as much as it was that they dropped the ball while not pushing the limits of their performances.
What made inexcusable the abject performances with whistle and flag — of which we saw so many — was they seemed premeditated. Sensing that it badly needed a reset button, Fufa commissioned a probe into the farcical displays. What the eminent panel chaired by Rt. Hon Daniel Kidega heard in its sittings was often deeply at odds with tenets that the beautiful game cherishes.
It remains to be seen whether recommendations of the Kidega commission will erase at a stroke any possibility of farcical refereeing displays rearing their ugly head. What we do know is that after having spent the past season wrapped up in knots, thanks purely to their shenanigans, referees got a clean slate when the 2018/19 Uganda Premier League kicked off two Fridays ago. It is still early days yet to tell whether performances have had a galvanising effect.
But, after a ruthlessly unsentimental look from many people this past week, it must have felt like referees were stuck in a rut.
It certainly looked like few were willing the so-called [wo]men in black to succeed instead of heralding their demise.
This followed the firestorm of condemnation Mashood Ssali was met with for allowing what initially looked like a phantom goal. The goal, which handed Uganda Premier League defending champions Vipers maximum points at Maroons’ expense, had a ghostly feel about it principally because the ball did not wind up in the onion bag.
The onion bags at Prisons Grounds in Luzira are reported to have gaping holes. This is disturbing on many grounds. As standard practice, refereeing contingents are supposed to ensure that onion bags are devoid of gaping holes. The shortcomings of Ssali and company in this regard should not go unnoticed. They should not also go unpunished.
If the powers that be harbour any plans — as indeed they should — of improving Ugandan refereeing standards, a system of reward and punishment has to take centre-stage.
Referees will push the envelope safe in the knowledge that a flawless performance will not attract any punishment. For now, though, they do not seem to care that much as errant performances attract no more than a slap on the wrist.
What we now know....
We know that Joseph Ochaya has signed on the dotted line with Democratic Republic of Congo outfit, TP Mazembe.
We know that the Lubumbashi-based outfit needs no introduction to African club football enthusiasts.
We know that TP Mazembe are seasoned campaigners on the continent who have won the African title on five occasions.
We also know that Ochaya won’t be the first Ugandan to sport the club’s colours.
Patrick Ochan and Sulaiman Mutyaba preceded him.
Ochaya, though, will be hoping to fare better than the duo did.