Uganda can safely say they had a successful Africa Cup of Nations
(AFCON) tournament in Egypt.
The Cranes arrived in Egypt as one of the low profile teams which were
expected to exit the tournament at the very first hurdle.
Their roaster was devoid of any star names, save for their
inspirational goalkeeper Dennis Onyango of Mamelodi Sundowns.
I will come back to the big goalkeeper later.
The east-African team announced their arrival in Egypt with an
emphatic 2-0 win against DR Congo.
That result was a surprise for those of us who have followed the
progress of DR Congo in recent years. A star studded line up made up
of players dotted around Europe it was hard to give the Cranes a
Coming into this tournament DR Congo were ranked 5th on the African
continent while Uganda was a distant 16th. It was reasonable not to
expect Uganda to get anything out of that game.
However what carried Uganda was great self belief.
They didn’t have any star players who could turn the game in instant
but they made up for that with some hard grafting.
Uganda worked very hard and played direct football.
In all their matches at AFCON they had less ball position than their
opponents but they had a clear game plan.
They used their physicality and hard running strikers and wingers to
catch the opponent on the break.
All this success would not have been possible without the input of
French coach Sebastian Desabre.
The 42-year-old Desabre took charge of Uganda since December 2017
until his departure last month for Egyptian side Pyramids.
Desabre guided Uganda to their first knockout stage appearance for the
first time since 1978.
This effort was an upgrade from 2017 tournament in Gabon when Uganda
lost all their three group matches.
The Frenchman achieved this success on the back of his African
journeyman credentials. He arrived in Uganda with a wealth of
experience in continental football having cut his teeth at ASEC
Mimosas in Ivory Coast, Coton Sport FC de Garoua in Cameroon and
Espérance Sportive de Tunis in Tunisia, Ismaily SC in Egypt, Clube
Recreativo Desportivo Libolo in Angola, JS Saoura in Algeria and Wydad
Athletic Club in Morocco.
He understood the mentality of African football set up where in some
cases you are expected to scale lofty heights with very little tools.
He also knew how to get the best out of a bunch of players who would
otherwise be considered average.
Having said that it’s also important to remember Milutin Sredojević
otherwise known in African football circles as “Micho.”
He was the builder who put together the foundation of Uganda’s success in Egypt.
A passionate football man.
He took over as Uganda’s national team coach in 2013 initially on a 2
year contract which was later extended because of his stellar record.
Progress was made in the CAF African Nations Championship (CHAN) tournament.
Winning the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations
(CECAFA) title in 2015 was Micho’s crowning moment as head coach of
the Cranes of Uganda. He also led Uganda to 2017 AFCON qualification
for the first time since 1968.
The Cranes were later voted as the national team of the year at the
CAF awards in 2016 testimony to the work that Micho had done.
The Serbian then left Uganda in 2017 after a salary payment dispute
with the national association.
I am pretty sure if he was to return to Uganda he will be welcomed
back with both hands. He became the most important figure in Ugandan
football in the years he was in charge, helping out in other matters
which were beyond his pay cheque, such as player development, helping
local coaches and acting as an ambassador for the east-African
Micho could also be credited for developing Dennis Onyango, now the
most important man in Ugandan football.
The 2016 African Players of the Year based in Africa flourished under Micho.
At AFCON he was the bedrock of the team.
Had it not been for his exploits, Uganda would not have made it into
the knockout stages.
His leadership and outstanding qualities came to the fore in the match
against Zimbabwe when he made save after save to deny the Zimbabweans
a winning goal.
Uganda could have gone all the way like Madagascar did in reaching the
Quarter-Finals of thE AFCON tournament in Egypt had they stayed
focussed. However they dropped both focus and tools prior to their
last 16 match against Senegal.
There was nothing Desabre and Onyango could do about that. It was beyond them.
The players were demotivated.
The good thing though, their efforts did not go unnoticed.
Back home President Yoweri Museveni through a lavish welcome back bash
and promised them a $1 million gift.
Perhaps I should return to this story in the coming to check if the
commitment was fulfilled.