Hope springs for Cranes

First things first, this column was punched out way before yesterday’s Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup final between Uganda and Rwanda was played. So, if you are keen on a deconstruction of how the match panned out, I’m afraid you may have to flip the page.

But just before you do that, dear reader, how about you spare some time to read your columnist’s two cents about what Uganda’s run to the final means? In a word, it means hope. Lots of hope. But we all know that hope can be such a deceptive word. Danger-ous even. The silence of its pregnancy has suspense and many transpositions to it. So, how about we gouge out the transpositions?

Hope against hope

Cranes coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic departed for Ethiopia where the tournament was held shorn of Robert Ssentongo’s predatory skills. Remarkably, the midget striker failed to make the trip to Ethiopia because he had no passport.

In a tweet, Micho rather flatteringly likened Ssentongo to the Argentine forward Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero. Micho said he had hoped against hope that Uganda’s answer to Kun would process his papers in time to make the trip to Ethiopia. He didn’t.

After an anaemic performance in their opening group game against Kenya, Uganda also found itself hoping against hope. The Cranes were just one bad result from an early exit. Few — if any — saw it coming. The 2-0 loss at the hands of Kenya only served to stoke a feud between Micho and his predecessor who also happens to be the coach of the Harambee Stars, Bobby Williamson.

Micho detonated a small bomb by trivialising Kenya’s win in a tone that was both philosophical and matter-of-fact. Not one to take prisoners, Bobby retorted. There is little de-bate that Bobby holds a significant edge over Micho as far as the trophy stakes are concerned. Not even a win in yesterday’s final would put Micho at par with his prede-cessor.

Bobby won the Cecafa Cup four times as Cranes coach in 2008, 2009, 2011 (beating Micho’s Rwanda in the final) and 2012. But when it comes to the African Nations Championship (Chan), Micho has somewhat put Bobby in the shade. Bobby was hit like a freight train when he took Uganda to the Chan finals in 2011. The Cranes failed to win a single match.

Under Micho, Uganda won its first match at the 2014 finals when a Yunus Sentamu brace stunned Burkina Faso. Micho is hoping against hope to build on this at next year’s finals in Rwanda. He wants to take Uganda out of a group that also has Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mali. Which brings me to yet another transposition.

Micho promised to use the just concluded Cecafa Cup to prepare a team he intends to field at next year’s Chan. All but one player that figured in Ethiopia is eligible to play in Rwanda next year. The ineligible player? Murushid Juuko. The Tanzanian-based centre half who is just cutting his teeth in the red Cranes strip was an ever present in Ethiopia.

One, though, cannot help but wonder whether using home-based options like Hassan Dazo Wasswa would have stood the Chan 2016 hopes in better stead.

After the Kenya debacle, Micho addressed the imbalance on the left side of his defence by fielding centre half Richard Kassaga as well as Isaac Muleme in an aanced position on the wing to plug the gaps left by Joseph Ochaya’s marauding runs. This eventually placated Cranes fans as the team didn’t concede a goal en route to the final. But with Juuko set to be taken out of the equation, could false hope be staring us in the face? Could fate yet give us some very hard blows?