When Cranes had to beat champions Morocco, and did

Tuesday January 26 2021

Uganda Cranes players warm up before kickoff of the match against Togo last week. PHOTO/COURTESY/CAF.

By Ismail Dhakaba Kigongo

A lot has been told about Uganda Cranes’ run at the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations. That year, underdogs Uganda went all the way to the final – losing 2-0 to hosts Ghana.

Striker Philip Omondi inked his name among Africa’s greatest players in that eight-team tournament. The Uganda legend finished as one of three top scorers. 

There’s something that is often ignored in that story. Uganda were on the brink of an early exit in the group stage – similar to what they face at the ongoing Africa Nations Championship in Cameroon today.

In 1978, ganda beat Congo Brazzaville 3-1 in the group B opener. Omondi, Eddie Ssewanga and Godfrey Kisitu got the goals. By then, two points were awarded for a win and one for a draw.

Tunisia humbled Peter Okee-coached Uganda 3-1 in the second game. Sam Musenze got the consolation goal.

“We had packed our bags before the final group game. In camp, everyone knew we were going home,” Paul Ssali, the first choice goalkeeper at the tournament, reminisces.


Morocco was a tall order. 
“No one gave us a chance against Morocco. Like all Arabs, they were better than everyone else.” 

Omondi, Kisitu and Moses Nsereko bagged a goal each a 3-0 rout of then-champions Morocco to top the group with four points and progress to the semifinals. Ssali kept a clean sheet.

To draw symmetry, coach Jonny McKinstry needs a victory against champions Morocco to avoid an early exit from the Chan.

Uganda drew goalless with Rwanda and lost 2-1 to Togo to stay bottom of group C with one point. Morocco lead the group with four, Togo have three and Rwanda two. 

So is beating Morocco possible? 

“It’s very possible if players show resolve and fight for everything,” says Ssali.