NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 4- Kampala will be at a standstill on Sunday as the Uganda Cranes hosts Comoros in a crucial 2017 final African Cup of Nations Qualifier at the iconic Nelson Mandela Namboole Stadium.
A win against Comoros will guarantee the Cranes a place at next year’s African Nations Cup in Gabon, either as group winners (depending on Burkina Faso’s result against Botswana) or as one of the best two second placed teams as a win takes them to 13 points.
For the last 39 years, Cranes have been searching for that elusive ticket to Africa’s biggest football bonanza. Twice they have come close but dropped the pot at the doorstep.
In 2011, they were painfully stopped by Kenya in a 0-0 draw at the Namboole Stadium when all they needed was a win. In 2012, reigning champions Zambia crushed their dream at Namboole again with a 9-8 win on penalties. Never again, Ugandans have said.
“The players know the responsibility the nation has on us. I have coached for 24 years, 16 of them in Africa and I’m used to pressure, pressure is my soul food. I’ve taken all the pressure from my players and told them they only need to be responsible for themselves, their future, their country, their friends and relatives,” Uganda Cranes head coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic told Capital Sport from Kampala.
The aroma of expectation is so high in the Ugandan capital that one could actually choke in it.
“We are very excited. On Sunday, I’m closing down my taxi business. I love my country and I cannot afford to miss seeing us make history. I’m confident we will make it,” one of the taxi drivers in Kampala told Capital Sport.
“I’m just hoping they don’t do to us like in 2011 and 2012. That’s why I’m going to the game with an open mind. But the chance is quite open this time round.”
Dinners, prayers and financial promises have come the way of the players and coaching unit as the day of reckoning draws closer and Micho says they cannot afford to drop the chance for another time.
“We respect our opponent but not over respect them. We know it is not going to be an easy match but we have worked hard at it. The friendly against Kenya last Tuesday helped us to look at the areas we need to work on and I believe we have and are ready,” Micho added.
Midfielder Khalid Aucho, who scored the crucial goal in their 2-1 win against Burkina Faso in their last match, is confident that the Cranes will get the ultimate ticket to Gabon.
“We know what is expected of us but above all we don’t feel the pressure. We are relaxed and I know we are going make our fans proud on Sunday. We have a very strong team and everyone knows that the nation is looking on us,” Aucho said.
The Namboole is expected to be full to the rafters as the Cranes prepare to make history and break a 39-year duck of failing to make it to the Nations Cup.