Uganda’s performances at the African Nations Championship have not been without critics. The Cranes have figured in all but the maiden finals in 2009. They make a fifth straight appearance when the championship, which shuts out the so-called expatriate players, gets underway in Cameroon this weekend.
Uganda will not be in action until Monday when the Cranes lock horns with neighbours Rwanda.
All indications are that coach Johnny McKinstry will want to get business done before the final group fixture against Morocco’s Atlas Lions – after playing first timers Togo. But this, as indeed was the case in the previous four finals, could be too optimistic – irresponsibly so.
The Cranes have shocked their fans and delighted their rivals with stuttering displays in this tournament. The idea that lightning could strike twice, while intolerable, finds itself right at the edge of the possible.
The wisest minds have faced up to the fact that the Cranes have failed to reach the knockout stages in all four previous attempts because they are, well, goal shy. In its maiden (2011) and last (2018) appearances, Uganda scored an identical one goal in three matches.
The two campaigns in between first and last (2014 and 2016) saw a marginal improvement, with the Cranes bagging three goals apiece. The slight change did not spare them from being placed in an impossible situation.
McKinstry will be hoping that comparisons end there. It is going to be hard, but there are grounds for hope. Any trepidation will be tempered by a sense of strength. The Cranes are not just unbeaten, but have scored in all their Chan tune-up matches in Cameroon.
The rich vein of form is hardly a bolt from the blue. The 2020/2021 Uganda Premier League has been replete with goals. The vast bulk of the players responsible for those scoring exploits such as Brian Aheebwa and Ben Ocen have been rewarded with call-ups.
Aheebwa has even shown he can produce the goods on the grand stage, following his opportunistic hat-trick for KCCA against AS Kigali in the Caf Confederation Cup. This opportunity to shake the proverbial monkey off the back ought not to be squandered.