Marked upgrade for Uganda Cranes

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As Fufa hold that press conference on Thursday, serious questions still need serious answers. But Mato’s late winner on Tuesday might have as well bought Micho and Cranes more time to forge on with whatever they and Fufa believe they are on. 

Micho Sredojevic’s reaction after that crucial 1-0 Afcon 2023 qualification victory over Tanzania on Tuesday night said it all. 

He was a relieved man after his inspired second half substitutions made the difference, Faruku Miya threading in a sublime pass to Rogers Mato, who coolly placed the ball far post for a 91st minute winner in Dar es Salaam.

Taking risks

“This victory means a lot to the Uganda Cranes,” said the man who helped Uganda end a 39-year Afcon absence in 2016 but has largely struggled to get anything going in his second stint as Cranes coach.

“This is a team in transition,” he added, a message whose target audience will have been the increasingly disappointed Cranes fans, “because we have had so many players retiring. 

“We started this game with five players who played the final of the U20 Afcon in Mauritania in 2021 and a few senior players. 

“We came here to take risks and we played against a very experienced team. We took risks and in the end, we got something.” 

It was a different feeling after the Taifa Stars beat Cranes by the same scoreline last Friday in a game the Cranes hosted from Ismailia, Egypt thanks to Caf ban on Uganda’s only available stadium in Kitende.

And it largely remained uncertain, bordering on resigned; until the first minute of added time at a 60,000-capacity parked Benjamin Mkapa National Stadium when Mato rolled that ball past Aishi Manula in Tanzania’s goal.

Right calls

Miya - one of five substitutes including Fahad Bayo (on for Emmanuel Okwi), Mato (Richard Basangwa), Travis Mutyaba (Joseph Ochaya) and Steven Mukwala (Isma Mugulusi) - had just come on for Bobosi Byaruhanga on 88 minutes.

The Turkey-based forward, who has laboured to find his former self in Cranes colours, gathered the ball in the middle and rolled through a telling pass to Mato, a 62nd minute substitute.

Mato brilliantly kept on-side and as he advanced towards the Tanzanian box, he opened his body wide and - cool as you like - rolled that round leather into the far post like a boss! 

Micho had promised to right the wrongs from the defeat in the first leg, and to be fair, even before Mato pounced, the Serb had moved some distance in that regard. 

The flowing and attacking football the way Ugandans want it wasn’t there, but hunger was. Actually, Tanzania had more hold of the ball and passing until a late lapse. 

Micho also showed in his starting XI that he had listened. He dropped one defensive midfielder in Siraje Ssentamu and Miya for younger, more creative Bbobosi Byaruhanga and Isma Mugulusi alongside experienced Khalid Aucho in the middle.

And the two didn’t disappoint in a game so tightly contested, showing good desire and glimpses of what they can do.

Youngster Basangwa was given a rare start in place of Bayo and he also had his moments before fizzling out.

Timothy Awany replaced Livingstone Mulondo alongside Halid Lwaliwa, Kenneth Ssemakula and Aziz Kayondo at the back and the group kept their discipline and clean sheet, with Salim Jamal pulling off a crucial save from Simon Happygod Msuva. 

Question marks were in retaining skipper Okwi, who has struggled for some time now, and perhaps playing two left backs in Kayondo and Joseph Ochaya, although defensively you could argue the latter worked.

Issues remain

Uganda, level on four points with Tanzania, must now beat Algeria somewhere in Africa in June and Niger away from home in September and hope matches between other Group F teams go their way to avoid any tiebreaks.

However, the victory only resuscitated Uganda’s hopes in a laborious campaign, and in no way answers to most of the concerns that have been piling over time.

Uganda still cannot consistently pass as a team. The project and transition still need to be clearly defined and explained not just to Micho or any coach of Fufa’s choice, but to Ugandans at large.

And as Fufa president Moses Magogo, and perhaps Micho, address the media on Thursday, the former will have to self-reflect across the broad-spectrum of Ugandan football beyond self-aggrandizing.


Should Uganda, Tanzania and/or Niger tie on points after all six matches are played, the following - in order - is applied to determine who joins Algeria in Ivory Coast;

Points in head-to-head matches among tied teams

Goal difference in head-to-head matches among tied teams

Goals scored in head-to-head matches among tied teams

Away goals scored in head-to-head matches among tied teams

If more than two teams are tied, and after applying all head-to-head criteria above, a subset of teams are still tied, all head-to-head criteria above will be reapplied exclusively to this subset of teams;

Goal difference in all group matches;

Goals scored in all group matches;

Away goals scored in all group matches;

Drawing of lots

What Uganda need to qualify without going to tiebreak

1. Algeria have to beat Niger ✅

2. Uganda beat Tanzania ✅

3. Uganda beat Algeria at home - away from home

4. Niger beat Tanzania

5.  Uganda beat Niger 

6. Algeria beat Tanzania


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