KAMPALA- Just over a decade ago, Uganda Cranes were among the poorest travellers in African football.
Away trips were dead cert defeats, many involving cricket scores particularly in North and West Africa.
It is measure of how times have changed that Uganda have now won three of their last five away Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
The only defeat was a 1-0 reverse in Burkina Faso where Cranes, who had a Geoffrey Massa header ruled out for a marginal offside decision, looked good for a point.
Such is the team’s new found mental strength that Uganda today approaches qualification matches on the travels with a winning mindset.
The formation employed by coach Micho Sredojevic may typically look timid but players of the national team today take to the field a psyche of triumph.
The game against Cape Verde, the highest ranked team in Uganda’s group, was a difficult one for two reasons; the islanders are the top seeded side in the group while Cranes are undergoing a post-Afcon transition.
Former skipper Massa, who led the team’s line for a decade, is retired while a host of players who featured at the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon early this year are either out of form or with no club, or both.
Just last year, the first names on a Cranes team sheet to the Cape Verde capital of Praia would have been Massa of course, Tony Mawejje, Moses Oloya, Luwagga Kizito, Isaac Isinde, Joseph Ochaya, Robert Odongkara and Baba Kizito.
The team that beat Cape Verde with a late Geoffrey Sserunkuma strike was a blend of the old and relatively new faces; the experience of established stars like Denis Onyango and Farouq Miya ably helping out Isaac Muleme, Milton Karisa, Derrick Nsibambi and Bernard Muwanga.
Unused substitutes included KCCA’s renown shot stopper Benjamin Ochan, Denis Okot and Robert Kakeeto.
As Micho pointed out in his post-match remarks, it is important for Uganda to know that it is only one game played and Fufa’s fabled ‘Cameroon 2019 project’ is still a long shot.
Most impressive way
But no one can deny that Uganda have started the qualification in the most impressive way thinkable – getting an away win against the best team in the group a day after the other two teams in Group L - Tanzania and Lesotho - played out a stalemate.
Cranes are in full control of the qualification process and will now only need to win all their home games against Cape Verde, Lesotho and Tanzaia to reach Cameroon 2019.
Micho will obviously continue chopping and changing with the Russia 2018 World Cup qualification campaign beckoning and the older guard of the Mawejjes and Baba Kizitos will in all probability get recalls sooner rather than later.
But unlike in the past, their places on the team are no longer automatic calls seeing how they have to work doubly hard to earn them with the team in a transition.
The competition for places all through the squad can only bode well for the future of the national team.
LAST FIVE AWAY MATCHES
Comoros 0-1 Uganda
Burkina Faso 1-0 Uganda
Bostwana 1-2 Uganda
Ghana 0-0 Uganda
Cape Verde 0-1 Uganda