Uganda make long-awaited return to Africa's top table

Reuters , Monday 16 Jan 2017,

A wait of almost 40 years will come to an end for Uganda on Tuesday when they make their return to the African Nations Cup finals, determined to prove they are a worthy competitors.

Uganda last played at the tournament in 1978 when they reached the final and will pick up where they left off against the same opponents when Group D gets underway in Port Gentil.

None of their current squad had been born and Idi Amin was still in charge of the country when Uganda lost 2-0 to Ghana in the final in Accra in a golden era for East African football.

But the fortunes of the team plummeted, reviving only over the last decade with Uganda narrowly missing out on qualification before beating the Comoros Islands in September to secure a place in the 2017 tournament.

Uganda finished second behind Burkina Faso in their group but took one of the two places reserved for the runners-up in the 13 qualifying groups.

"We are here on merit. We have a huge following and support from our people back home in Uganda. Let's wait and see what happens on Tuesday but we are edging closer to a very historic day after 39 years without taking part in the finals," their Serbian coach Milutin Sredojevich said on Monday.

"We know why we are here," added captain Geoffrey Massa, one of a squad who hail from an eclectic collection of clubs in countries like Finland, Iceland, South Africa, Vietnam and the United States.

"We are on the same table with the big boys of African football and we know they are planning for us but we are ready for the battle."

Uganda showed their credentials in October when they met Ghana at the start of the group phase of African World Cup qualifiers and forced a surprise away draw. They have four points from their opening two matches and stand a chance of making Russia their next tournament destination.

The 47-year-old Sredojevich, unknown in his native Serbia, has earned plaudits for his work over the last four years, bringing a structure and discipline to the team's play.

Upsetting the odds and getting past Ghana, Egypt and Mali would add to the collection of recent tournament surprises but Iceland-based midfielder Tony Mawejje says Uganda mean business.

"We dreamt about this opportunity. We are not here to participate but to play competitive football," he said.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports)


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