One more goal for Onyango
Only World Cup qualification left on his bucket list
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.”
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.