Cranes Through to AFCON 2019, Tanzania Waits

Written by: 
Maureen Acham & Alex Mugalu


Patrick Kaddu was the hero of the night as the Uganda Cranes qualified for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations tournament on Saturday. 

It was a full house at the forty-thousand-capacity Namboole Stadium as the Cranes team edged Cape Verde 1-0 to clinch a consecutive AFCON qualification. The win pushes the Cranes to the top of Group L with 13 points.

The group is, meanwhile still wide open after Lesotho beat Tanzania 1-0 on Sunday in Maseru.

After an impressive campaign which saw the Cranes beat Lesotho home and away, secure maximum points away to Cape Verde and draw with Tanzania at home, the team needed to avoid defeat at Namboole on Saturday to secure their place in Cameroon next year. But a 78-minute goal from Patrick Kaddu ensured that Coach Sebastien Desabre’s soldiers qualified as group leaders, without losing a match and without conceding a goal.

The Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) striker headed in a Geoffrey Walusimbi cross to put the hosts ahead and into the finals in Cameroon. The goal attracted a deafening uproar from the crowd, an appreciation for the team that, after waiting for 39 years, qualified at the last minute for the 2017 finals in Gabon. This time, however, there was no mathematics, as the team took matters in their hands to qualify with a game in hand.

Prior to the 2017 qualification, the Cranes had last played in the continental event in 1978.

Uganda started the match with intentions of getting a win after making constant attacks in the early minutes of the game. Khalid Aucho had the first chance to give Cranes a lead from Kaddu’s pass but he was pushed down as he tried to strike. Farouk Miya also had a clear chance before half time when he dribbled passed Ianique Tavares and Fernando Varela and set himself in one -on -one with Thierry Graca the visitors’ keeper who made a brilliant save to deny Miya.

Cape Verde also had some clear chances and the closest came in the 60th minute when Jorge Semedo weaved away through Isaac Muleme and Murushid Jjuuko but his efforts for the short were collected by Cranes’ skipper Dennis Onyango.

Kaddu had a penalty appeal after being elbowed down by Fernando Varela but referee calls for the penalty. Miya also had a free kick outside the box area but he blasted resulting kick on the wall.

Miya and Kaddu had several other chances later in the game but failed to convert them.

Hassan Wasswa Mawanda and Jjuuko got booked for the Cranes side while Luis Helder Viera Tavares was yellow carded on the other side.

Cape Verde tactician Ruis Aguas made some substitutions into the side, bringing on Helda Ramos for Ryan Mendes in the 46th minute and Julio Tavares for Helder Luis Lopes in the 58th minute. However, all these made less impact as Cranes walked away with a win.

 At the post-match presser, Coach Desabre said: “I’m amused by the performance of the team ".

Kaddu was delighted and emotional to score for his national team on his home debut match. He thanked the fans and his teammates for the support.  “It has been an emotional evening tonight, thank you my teammates and coaches for making this happen and to all the Uganda Cranes fans thank you for believing in us,” he said.

The Ugandan goal keeper Dennis Onyango also said, "As a country, Uganda is pushing forth and we are expecting better results come AFCON 2019.” Onyango knows better, as he was part of the team that failed to go beyond the group stages in the Gabon event—registering two narrow but fatal losses to Ghana and Egypt and drawing 1-1 with Mali.

  Kimunu Treasure who attended the match said that judging from the number of people who showed up for this game, one can tell that Ugandans were expecting a sure win. Mugagga Edward another attendee, said, "Well, now this is sure value for my ticket".

Table wide open

While the Cranes booked their place in the finals in style with a game in hand, the table was thrown wide open on Sunday evening after the Likwena (Crocodiles) of Lesotho secured a crucial 1-0 against the Taifa Stars of Tanzania. The win in Maseru means that all the three remaining teams in Group L have a chance of qualifying to join the Cranes. Currently Uganda tops the group with 13 points, ahead of second-placed Lesotho at five points, Tanzania with five points and Cape Verde with four points.

Pride, calculations, regional loyalty

As the teams prepare for the last group games in March next year, calculations, regional loyalties and pride will take centre stage. While Tanzania, Lesotho and Cape Verde will be fighting for second position in the group, the Cranes’ fight will be about pride; to maintain their unbeaten run and to go through the campaign without conceding a goal.

Uganda’s last fixture will be against Tanzania in Dar es Salaam as Cape Verde host Lesotho. For the West African nation to qualify, they have to beat Lesotho at home and hope for a Cranes’ win in Dar es Salaam. Indeed, this was Coach Rui Aguas’ prayer at Namboole after the match on Saturday.

“Uganda played better than us and deserved to win…I am very sure Tanzania will now not win in Lesotho. And now, my prayer is that Uganda wins away in Tanzania on the final day.”

Aguas’ prayers appeared to work in Maseru a day later, as Nkau Lerotholi became Lesotho's hero of the night with a 76-minute goal that brought the Likwena back into competition.

Uganda and Tanzania played a goalless draw in their first meeting at Namboole in September, and the two East African rivals will be looking to prove a point when they meet in March.

But there is a small issue of regional alliances. Will the Uganda Cranes be driven by pride or loyalty to the region? A win for the Taifa Stars would ensure passage for another team from the Cecafa region to the AFCON 2019.