One more goal for Onyango

Only World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion left on his bucket list

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - NJAB­ULO NGIDI

DE­NIS ONYANGO has just one more item that he wants to tick off his bucket list be­fore he can say that his ca­reer is ful­filled. The 31-year-old was part of the Ugan­dan side that qual­i­fied for the Africa Cup of Na­tions (Af­con) for the first time in 39 years in Septem­ber last year.

The fol­low­ing month Onyango was an African cham­pion with Mamelodi Sun­downs as the club won its maiden CAF Cham­pi­ons League tro­phy. As if that wasn’t enough, he be­came the first Ugan­dan to play in the Fifa Club World Cup and the first goal­keeper to win CAF’s Player of the YearBased in Africa award while the Cranes took home the Na­tional Team of the Year gong. But the Cranes’ time at the Af­con ended pre­ma­turely, elim­i­nated by a last-minute goal cour­tesy of Egypt’s Ab­dal­lah El-Said at Stade de Port-Gen­til on Satur­day.

Onyango chooses to see the sil­ver lin­ing in the Cranes’ time in Gabon. Close de­feats to Ghana and Egypt knocked them out be­fore their trip to Oyem to take on Mali in their last group game on Wed­nes­day. Uganda still have to meet Egypt, twice, and the Black Stars, one more time in Kam­pala, in the 2018 World Cup qual­i­fiers. The Cranes snatched a point from Ghana in Ta­male be­fore beat­ing Congo to sit in sec­ond place of Group E, two points be­hind the Pharaohs.

“This Af­con was good for the guys be­cause we still have to play Ghana and Egypt in the World Cup qual­i­fiers,” Onyango said. “We have seen the way they play the game and how tac­ti­cal they are. We be­lieve this will help us in the com­ing games be­cause we are play­ing Egypt next. It’s very im­por­tant for us to stay fo­cused, who knows Uganda might be at the World Cup. You must be­lieve. Play­ing in the World Cup with the na­tional team is the only thing that’s now miss­ing from my ca­reer.”

The Cranes could find them­selves be­ing de­nied their maiden ap­pear­ance in the World Cup by the man who took them to the Af­con for the first time in al­most four decades. Mi­lutin “Mi­cho” Sre­do­je­vic is re­ported to be the man to take over the Black Stars af­ter Avram Grant de­parts. The Is­raeli coach is set to leave Ghana af­ter this tour­na­ment. It is believed that Sre­do­je­vic has al­ready signed with Ghana. But the coach and pres­i­dent of Uganda’s Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, Moses Has­sim Ma­gogo, are adamant that Mi­cho will stay on at the helm. Onyango would wel­come that.

“He brought us here af­ter 39 years of try­ing a lot of dif­fer­ent coaches who couldn’t do this,” Onyango said. “For me, he has done his part. We lacked ex­pe­ri­ence here, which is how we lost to Ghana and Egypt. We weren’t out­played. We held our own against two good teams in Africa. He is the right man for the job, hope­fully we keep him. But if he moves on, that’s part of foot­ball. I think that he has done well for Uganda.”

Onyango will turn his at­ten­tion to club foot­ball af­ter the clash with Mali on Wed­nes­day. The Brazil­ians’ first big task is the CAF Su­per Cup against CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup cham­pi­ons TP Mazembe in Pre­to­ria next month. The Ugan­dan hopes to be fully fit for that as­sign­ment. He has strug­gled with in­juries af­ter a gru­elling 2016. He sat off a cou­ple of Sun­downs’ matches be­fore the end of the year while the Cranes put him on cot­ton-wool lead­ing up to this tour­na­ment. He com­plained of a tight mus­cle af­ter the loss to Egypt, not the groin that trou­bled him in the friendly with Ivory Coast.

“I have to man­age my body well,” Onyango said. “I will be fine by the time we play the Su­per Cup. It’s good that I played on in this tour­na­ment.”

PIC­TURE: BACKPAGEPIX

A DEC­O­RATED CA­REER: De­nis Onyango has achieved just about ev­ery goal an African player can set him­self. His next tar­get is to lead Uganda to qual­i­fi­ca­tion for next year’s World Cup in Rus­sia next year and he is hop­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence gained at the Af­con comes in handy.

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