The first match for the national football team, the Uganda Cranes at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Gabon is on tonight.
The Cranes will be taking on Ghana’s Black Stars, the team they played at the tournament in the finals of 1978. Besides 1978, the two nations have met a number of times with both teams winning once each in the previous four encounters and drawing the other.
Ghana’s most recent win against Uganda came eleven years ago when Michael Essien and Mathew Amoah scored at the Baba Yara stadium.
But recalling the events of 1978, Tom Lwanga, one of the Cranes players who was fielded in the finals said that unlike the current squad, majority of players in the 1978 squad were non-professionals. But unlike then, Uganda this time round boasts of a squad full of professionals.
“Most of the players were amateurs with day jobs in the police, army, as prison guards or in the civil service. By comparison, many of their opponents were professionals,” Lwanga was quoted as telling the media.
Surprisingly, Uganda quickly became the tournament’s surprise package after edging out more fancied opponents Morocco, Tunisia, Congo and Nigeria on its way to the final.
“(We had) a determination, willpower and fighting spirit to say: ‘OK, let’s go and prove to these people we are a football team that wants to be known,'” Lwanga says.
“One of our strengths was togetherness. We had played together for quite some time. That helped a lot — we were a family,” he adds.
He attributes the inspiration to have come from the previous reception they got after winning a regional tournament; Lwanga describes the team being treated with a near regal reverence after defeating Zambia to win the East and Central Africa Championship in Zanzibar in 1976.
According to Lwanga then President Idi Amin arranged for a plane to transport the winners back to Uganda, ordering the pilot to hover in the air so they could have a party before landing.
He later organized an all-expenses-paid shopping trip to Tripoli, Libya, providing spending money for each player as a reward, Lwanga says.
TODAY IN GABON
The current Cranes squad; Goalkeepers: Denis Onyango (Mamelodi Sundowns, South Africa), Salim Jamal (Al Merrikh, Sudan) and Robert Odongkara (Saint George, Ethiopia).
Defenders: Timothy Dennis Awany (KCCA, Uganda), Joseph Ochaya (KCCA), Shafiq Batambuze (Tusker, Kenya), Denis Iguma (Al Ahed, Lebanon), Isaac Isinde (Unattached), Murushid Juuko (Simba, Tanzania), Nicholas Wadada (Vipers, Uganda).
Midfielders: Khalid Aucho (Baroka, South Africa), Mike Azira (Colorado Rapids, USA), Geoffrey Kizito (Than Quang Ninh, Vietnam), William Luwagga Kizito (Rio Ave, Portugal), Tony Mawejje (Thotur, Iceland), Hassan Wasswa (Nijmeh, Lebabon), Moses Oloya (Hanoi T and T, Vietnam), Godfrey Walusimbi (Gor Mahia, Kenya).
Strikers: Geoffrey Massa (Baroka, South Africa), Faruku Miya (Standard Liege, Belgium), Yunus Sentamu (Ilves, Finland), Geoffrey Sserunkuma (KCCA, Uganda), Muhammed Shaban (Onduparaka, Uganda).
Denis Onyango (GK), Denis Iguma, Joseph Ochaya, Hassan Wasswa, Isaac Isinde, Geoffrey Baba Kizito, Tonny Mawejje, Mike Azira, William Luwagga Kizito, Farouk Miya and Geoffrey Massa (C).
Five Ghana v Uganda facts
— The only previous Cup of Nations game between the countries was the 1978 final which hosts Ghana won 2-0 in Accra thanks to a brace from Opoku Afriyie.
— They did clash, though, in a 2018 World Cup qualifier just three months ago with Uganda forcing a surprise 0-0 match day 1 draw in Ghana.
— Ghana hosted and won the Cup of Nations in 1963 and 1978 and also triumphed in 1965 in Tunisia and 1982 in Libya. Uganda came closest to glory in 1978 by finishing runners-up.
— This time both teams have foreign coaches with Israeli Avram Grant, the former Chelsea and West Ham manager, coaching Ghana and Serb Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic handling Uganda.
— The Black Stars of Ghana are ranked ninth in Africa and 54th in the world while the Cranes of Uganda are 18th in Africa and 73rd in the world.
Today’s game airs at 7pm.