Uganda are back

Cranes reach the Na­tions Cup fi­nals af­ter four decades

World Soccer - - Sporting Gijon Valencia Villarreal -

he fi­nal round of qual­i­fiers to de­ter­mine places in next year’s African Na­tions Cup fi­nals pro­vided yet an­other snapshot of the two ex­tremes of the game on the con­ti­nent: the un­bri­dled joy that comes with long-awaited suc­cess and a darker side where barely be­liev­able sce­nar­ios con­tinue to cast as­per­sions on the va­lid­ity of re­sults.

Uganda were run­ners-up at the 1978 fi­nals but since then they have failed with reg­u­lar monotony to qual­ify. In re­cent at­tempts they have come ag­o­nis­ingly close, no more so than ahead of the 2013 fi­nals when they lost a penalty shoot-out to de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Zam­bia.

But af­ter al­most four decades they re­turn to the top ta­ble hav­ing se­cured their place on the last week­end of the pre­lim­i­nar­ies with a home win over Co­moros.

Farouk Miya, re­cently signed by Stan­dard Liege, scored the only goal of the game at Kam­pala’s Nel­son Man­dela Sta­dium to set off heart-warm­ing cel­e­bra­tions for a coun­try that has long lusted af­ter a fi­nals place.

The Cranes, who are also in the group phase of the 2018 World Cup qual­i­fiers, have been a work in progress for some time now, first un­der Scot­tish coach Bobby Wil­liamson and then Ser­bian boss Mi­lutin Sre­do­je­vic.

Uganda ac­tu­ally fin­ished sec­ond in their group, but they took one of the two berths re­served for the best run­ners-ups in the 13 groups. They fin­ished be­hind Burk­ina Faso on head-to-head re­sults af­ter both gained 13 points. But while Uganda’s qual­i­fi­ca­tion proved a bright point, Burk­ina Faso ad­vanced in the most du­bi­ous of cir­cum­stances.

Hav­ing to win at home to Botswana to qual­ify, Burk­ina Faso se­cured a 2-1 vic­tory with vir­tu­ally the last kick of the game as the ref­eree seemed to play on for an eter­nity.

“Nine min­utes of stop­page time was shown at the end of the game but 11 were ac­tu­ally played,” says Botswana coach Peter But­ler, whose side were down to nine men by then. “My goal­keeper got punched by their cen­tre-for­ward and yet he was sent off and not the striker.

“I’m not one for blam­ing ref­er­ees, but in African football I’ve learnt that noth­ing sur­prises any­more.

“The 11 min­utes of added time paints the pic­ture, but I wish Burk­ina Faso well. My play­ers were mag­nif­i­cent. I was very proud of the way we played.”

De­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Ivory Coast also looked for­tu­nate to qual­ify, although any ev­i­dence to the con­trary was quickly buried by the bias of their own tele­vi­sion cov­er­age.

They seemed to be handed an easy group and in their last game needed just to avoid de­feat at home to Sierra Leone in what seemed a rou­tine as­sign­ment. But with­out Yaya Toure and Wil­fried Bony the Ele­phants looked some­what light on match-win­ning tal­ent.

Although they were 1-0 up at half-time, the Ivo­rians

Happy days... Uganda cel­e­brate

Threat...Burk­ina Faso’s Ber­trand Traore against Botswana

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