Uganda’s spectacular implosion at the backend of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying process dominated the news cycle this past week.
Suddenly, it seems something larger and potentially more ominous is afoot in Ugandan football. Playing at successive Afcon finals had doubtless cultivated a sense of entitlement in the players and fans alike.
Both went into the 2021 qualifying campaign thinking they are thoroughly entitled to a happy ending. They, however, encountered something as shocking as anything anyone could ever encounter.
While many Ugandans are appalled at the idea of not being represented in Cameroon next year, few have stopped to think deeply about this failure. If they did, they would realise that it is a symbol of decay more than anything else.
Fufa and its enthusiastic apologists will want Ugandans to believe that this is nothing more than an oddity. Normal service will resume sooner rather than later. For some, these assurances – while less striking – provide comfort. Fufa have earned the right to be a recipient of the benefit of the doubt.
A closer examination should, however, leave sober minds feeling that the hitherto rosy picture was all a little too neatly tied together. Make no mistake, we should respect the craft behind a packaging that presented Uganda as one of African football’s titans.
But above all, we should respect the fact that we are always a heartbeat away from straying into punchbag territory. Yes, the Cranes can become a punchbag for Malawi and South Sudan when either country is yearning for both answers and retribution. Let that sink in, dear reader.
If anything should make us take threats seriously and prepare for the worst, it is the losses the Cranes suffered in Nairobi and Blantyre.
On both road trips, Uganda was up against the ropes with no clear remedy to its predicament. All of a sudden, this looked like one of those self-destructive Cranes teams that lumbered on for 11 years without winning either a World Cup or Afcon qualifier on the road.
By any measure, the time between Majid Musisi’s match winner in Blantyre (2000) and David Obua’s decisive strike in Bissau (2011) felt like eternity. But when the Cranes finally cracked the code under the stewardship of Bobby Williamson, decent performances on the road helped peel away the layers of sorrow.
When Uganda snapped a nearly four-decade drought by booking a ticket to Gabon 2017, victories in Comoros and Botswana had such a galvanising effect. The ticket to Egypt 2019 was punched on the back of wins in Cape Verde and Lesotho.
We should have known that something of the gravest nature had occurred when the Cranes failed to replicate such performances heading into the homestretch of the 2021 campaign. A dearth of goals didn’t help matters as this column proffered last Saturday.
Your columnist further reckons that we should be sufficiently concerned about the absence of away wins as the sense of entitlement their presence precipitated after the 2017 and 2019 campaigns. Just to be clear, the road victories during the 2017 and 2019 campaign owed more to the stumble of others than the audacity of Cranes players.
Denis Onyango saved a penalty in Comoros while Khalid Aucho stroked the decider in Botswana barely a minute after the hosts had restored parity (put simply, they were caught unawares). There were close shaves in Praia before Geoffrey Sserunkuma’s late strike condemned Cape Verde. This leaves the 2-0 win in Lesotho as the only domineering result.
One of the reasons Cranes players flounder when tested on their travels is because they are bogged down by an identity crisis. If you are not grounded in a particular style, chances of you being seized by an unconquerable timidity are alarmingly high. The Cranes are neither here nor there when it comes to singling out their calling card.
This explains why players looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights whenever the Internet connection from Blantyre stopped buffering on Monday. They will only get surefooted once the powers that be embrace a forever binding style.
Good luck with that!