Cranes coach Johnny McKinstry understands the magnitude of Uganda’s Group E of the Fifa Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
The Northern Irishman appreciates that East African neighbours Kenya and Rwanda are no ordinary nations when it comes regional rivalry, and knows the games are more than just three points. Yet the 34-year-old must not get lost in regional dynamics. He must also keep a clean eye on West African giants Mali, who completed the group in draws concluded in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday night.
“Obviously we know Mali,” McKinstry told Daily Monitor yesterday, “They are a young team. And if you look at their performance at the U17 Afcon, they won it in 2015 and 2017.
“They did very well in the U17 World Cup... They then won the U20 Afcon in 2019 and also did well in the World Cup. “So you look at their years of progression from 2015 to date, really Mali - over the next five or six years - they are going to be the team to watch in Africa, replacing Senegal. “However, with youth comes inexperience and unpredictability, so we have to make sure we use our experience to get the correct results against Mali. “But we cannot underestimate them because there is a lot of talent in that team.”
McKinstry, discussing the East African derbies, also delved into how Uganda could not have got a better draw - logistically.
“I don’t think you can get it simpler logistically, in terms of away games in Rwanda and Kenya.
“Short, direct flights straight to these games. It’s completely possible if we want to travel a day before the game, train at the stadium and play the next day.
“Our East African rivals Rwanda and Kenya will be thinking the same, but for Mali, travelling here will not be easy on their bodies.
“Derby games are always unpredictable. I think it’s great for the supporters, both at home and away. Hopefully our supporters will come and fill the stadium and create an atmosphere.
“It’s very rare in African and international football that you are provided with opportunities for supporters to come to the away games.
“The potential there is for people to get on a bus to Nairobi and Kigali.”
McKinstry will be handling his first World Cup assignment since replacing Sebastien Desabre late last year, and the game against Rwanda will be placing him against his former employers.
“There is always more at stake than three points in these derbies, there is local pride, so we’ve got to make sure we are at the very top of our game,” he said.“And if we are, we are more than capable of taking maximum points against our neighbours.
“It’s a group that provides us with lot of opportunity but it’s also an intriguing group that will pose different types of challenges.”
The first round of qualifying group games begins in October this year and ends in October 2021 before the final phase of play-offs the following month. Only 10 group winners will progress to the play-off round, where two-legged ties will decide Africa’s five World Cup representatives in Qatar. Some of Uganda’s most memorable clashes with Rwanda and Kenya came in the 2004 and 2012 Africa Nations Cup qualifiers.
The Amavubi Stars of Rwanda edged the Cranes in Kampala in that infamous 1-0 ‘juju’ encounter at Namboole before drawing in Kigali to qualify for Tunisia 2004 finals.
The Cranes also heartbreakingly failed to make it to the 2012 Afcon finals after a goalless draw with Kenya’s Harambee Stars at Namboole in 2011.
Qatar World Cup 2022 AFRICA qualifying pools
Algeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Djibouti
Tunisia, Zambia, Mauritania, Eq. Guinea
Nigeria, Cape Verde, CAR, Liberia
Cameroon, I. Coast, Mozambique, Malawi
Mali, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda
Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Angola
Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia
Senegal, Congo, Namibia, Togo
Morocco, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan
DR Congo, Benin, Madagascar, Tanzania