Kampala- Before last week’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifying fixtures, Malawi were dead and nearly buried.
They needed to win their final two fixtures against Uganda and South Sudan to end their Afcon absence going back to 2010.
South Africa-based forward Gerald Phiri got them out of jail in a 1-0 victory over South Sudan, a nation that became a member of Fifa family on May 25, 2012.
On July 10, 2012, South Sudan competed in its first international match, a friendly against Uganda in Juba. The match ended in a 2-2 draw. That match resulted in South Sudan entering the Fifa rankings at the start of August in the 199th place.
They have since risen to 163rd, but still a gaping 70 places below Uganda.
So, when the draw for the 2021 Afcon qualifiers was made on July 18, 2019, placing Uganda alongside Burkina Faso, Malawi and South Sudan, the latter were clearly the whipping boys.
With marginal scores, Burkina Faso and Malawi beat South Sudan home and away to ensure their places at Afcon while Uganda failed to do so.
As the qualification campaign fizzled out yesterday in Blantyre where Cranes were burnt 1-0 by the Flames, you couldn’t help but switch to the events of November 16, 2020.
Four days earlier, defender Halid Lwaliwa’s goal had given Uganda a tame 1-0 victory over the minnows at St Mary’s, Kitende. Qualification was certain on the next matchday.
The then-coach, Johnny McKinstry – since suspended – went for the jugular at the Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi where South Sudan hosted their game. The inexperienced Karim Watambala and Allan Okello were handed starts, with Disan Galiwango at left back and William Luwagga Kizito, leaving the midfield light.
It was clear that the team struggled from the whistle.
Midfielder Khalid Aucho was sent off on 31 minutes.
The fidgeting started as Mike Azira (37’), Elvis Bwomono (46’), Emmanuel Okwi (46’) and Edrisa Lubega (59’) replaced Luwagga, Galiwango, Watambala and Nicolas Wadada.
In the 88th minute, Derrick Nsibambi came on for Okello. It was too late. Cranes went from qualifying with two games to spare to needing results in the final two games.
Last week’s home draw with Burkina Faso and Malawi’s victory yesterday now ensure that Uganda Cranes’ run of successive qualifications remained at two tournaments, thanks to the events of Nyayo.