It will all be about the final product in Marrakech on Thursday night. “It is,” indeed, as emphasised by Uganda Cranes coach Micho Sredojevic ahead of the decisive Afcon 2023 qualifier against Niger, “all about the final product.”
While an eye and thoughts will be kept alert on events in Algeria between the hosts and Tanzania, the most important action, which Uganda can control, remains in Morocco.
And what has lacked throughout the five games of qualification thus far, the final product, is what Ugandans and Micho suddenly want and hope for.
New York Red Bulls forward Ibrahim Kasule, itching for a runout after finally making the final team – like his colleagues have said all week, vows they “are going to give our very best so that we can qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’ivoire next year.”
Bottom of Group F with just two points, Niger – one and two behind Uganda and Tanzania respectively, and a massive 13 from the already qualified Algeria – have little to play for. Oh do they?
Well, giving smiles to Nigeriens back home, who are enduring some political upheaval, might just be enough inspiration to make life for Uganda.
The permutations are quite simple. This is between Uganda and Tanzania, whose head-to-head record in this campaign is tied.
For Tanzania, all they need to qualify for Ivory Coast 2023, never mind the finals being played early next year, is to avoid defeat in Algeria. That is all!
Uganda do not have such luxuries. The Cranes must not only beat Niger, but must do so and hope Tanzania lose to Algeria.
Micho and Uganda have little options. “We are going all out in attack. The intention is to win,” said the Serb, Micho, in the run up to this encounter.
Poor in front of goal, at the back
The Cranes have scored only three goals in five matches, while shipping in six, the most alongside Niger.
Hopefully, returning Bevis Mugabi will help man the defence better with Halid Lwaliwa, Kenneth Ssemakula, Aziz Kayondo and goalkeeper Salim Jamal behind them.
Skipper Khalid Aucho knows this could potentially be his final chance to return to Afcon.
Alongside Bobosi Byaruhanga and Joseph Ochaya, Aucho will have to be at his best in the middle of the park to provide both the buffer and springboard for Cranes breakthroughs.
Micho is likely to stick with Rogers Mato, scorer of the winning goal in Tanzania that kept Uganda alive in this campaign, UPL MVP Milton Karisa and Fahad Bayo in a three-man attack.
Amadou Sabo, the man who cancelled out Karisa’s goal in the 1-1 draw at Kitende last year, and Daniel Sosah, Niger’s top scorer with two goals, are the men to keep the Cranes looking over their shoulder.
Uganda are looking to return to the Afcon finals for the first time since 2019, and entering the decisive game the way they have is not something they hoped for when the draws were first made.
Salim Omar Magoola, Abdu Aziizi Kayondo, Halidi Lwaliwa, Bevis Mugabi, Kenneth Ssemakula, Khalid Aucho, Bobosi Byaruhanga, Joseph Ochaya, Milton Karisa, Rogers Mato, Fahad Bayo
Substitutes: Isima Watenga, Nafian Alionzi, Kenneth Semakula, Elvis Bwomono, Isaac Muleme, Musa Ramathan, Taddeo Lwanga, Laban Tibita, Ibrahim Kasule, Faruku Miya, Moses Waiswa, Richard Basangwa, Frank Ssebufu