Kampala. A 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign that started with a razor-thin 1-0 win for Uganda in Praia achieved its primary objective for the Cranes last Saturday with a replica result against the same opponents. While chances of Cape Verde’s Blue Sharks swimming to the big time look vanishingly small, the Cranes are in full flight having not just sealed qualification but also won their group with a matchday to spare.
Since taking on the Cranes reins at the tail end of 2017, Sébastien Desabre has been an unusual mix of relaxed and concentrated. The 42-year-old Frenchman remained unflappable when an abysmal start to his Cranes chapter was met with brutal reactions. Last Saturday, when Patrick Kaddu’s 77th minute glancing header settled a tight contest at Mandela National Stadium, Desabre showed a side he seldom lets out. He was evidently bowled over by the subtle craftsmanship and emotional punch of what had been accomplished.
Desabre did not quite betray emotion like Kaddu who wept seconds after scoring his maiden Cranes goal. A combative streak nonetheless coursed through the Frenchman’s veins post match. “During the Niger camp you write about me not so nice,” he said about the hostility his tough start attracted, adding, “For change you need some time. The result today is the result of work of 11 months. Big work.”
Reaching the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals, he would go on to note, was the goal he set himself after first setting foot in Africa eight years ago. Back in 2010, when Desabre was preparing for a new chapter that would see him gain extensive experience in the African game with clubs like Wydad Casablanca, ASEC Mimosas, Ismaily, CS Garoua, Recreativo Desportivo Libolo and ES Tunis, Cranes fans were licking their wounds. An attempt to qualify for the 2010 Afcon finals had wilted despite comical attempts by then Fufa chief executive, Charles Masembe to convince all and sundry that there were still some flickering embers of qualification.
Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic helped Uganda finally shake the monkey off its back in September of 2016. Farouk Miya, the player that scored the goal that ended Uganda’s nearly four-decade-long jinx, had the chance to settle nerves early last Saturday. Fifteen minutes had been played when Dennis Iguma beat the offside trap to release Miya. Just as was the case against Comoros, Miya need a couple of touches. He couldn’t find the onion bag on this occasion though. He also fashioned another bad miss with two minutes left to play after being teed up by the indefatigable Nico Wadada.
The misses don’t dim Miya’s place in Ugandan football folklore. While he has three goals and counting in the qualifying campaign, it is his exploits back in 2016 that will be burned in the consciousness of Cranes fans. They helped Uganda end an almighty drought by reaching a sixth Afcon finals tournament. There appears to be a general consensus that the successive qualifications between 1974 to 1978 will take some beating. That considerable feat could be achieved if Uganda makes the grade for Côte d’Ivoire 2021.
The Cranes might, however, have a crack at equally history then without talismanic goalkeeper Denis Onyango who hinted at last Saturday’s match probably being “my last Afcon qualifier.” For now, though, Micho’s feat is being juxtaposed with Desabre’s. The Frenchman unwittingly stated that his accomplishment surpasses what Micho achieved if not in intensity then style. “In 2017, [the Cranes] qualified as a second-placed team, but now we [win the group],” he noted, adding, “We want to finish with zero goal conceded and maximum points [SIC].”