The Uganda Cubs make their debut at the Under 17 Afcon tonight against perennial campaigners Angola at the National Stadium of Tanzania, with all the focus on a place to the World Cup.
Uganda are the only first timers at the biennial tournament among the eight finalists.
An impressive debut
At the zonal qualifiers held in Dar es Salaam last year, Uganda was guided by Peter Onen to the title, an ultimate dream, ahead of the hosts.
The result was hailed in many circles with the team styled Uganda’s next golden generation.
In 2016, Uganda started this journey with the introduction of the Fufa Juniors League (FJL) and the players in this squad have gone through that league.
Skipper Gavin Kizito, a product of the successful St Mary’s SS Kitende project, has two FJL titles and believes this is a “good step for my career”.
“We have learnt a lot from the qualifiers and we want to replicate the same spirit. I will do my best to make Uganda proud. I want to make it to the Fifa World Cup,” Kizito, christened Puyol by peers, said ahead of the tournament.
The top two teams in each group will proceed to the semi-final stage of the competition earning the right to represent Africa at the 2019 U-17 Fifa World Cup in Peru this October.
Uganda’s team has a fairly unexpected opportunity to get out of Group A if they can a maintain an inspired run.
Midfielders Innocent Opira (Ndejje University), Ivan Asaba (Vipers), striker Davis Sekajja (scored five goals in the qualifiers) and Buddo SS’ Thomas Kakaire have already surpassed expectations.
But what seems to inspire each player is a place to the World Cup. As Kakaire has said: “We are in for the first time. That is something special for our country. But we are going to surprise people.”
For Davis Sekajja, the semifinals are the chance to earn the respect.
Apart from Angola, Nigeria and Tanzania are the other opponents at the preliminary phase.
No walk in the park
Angola should not be a piece of cake having surprised highly rated South Africa to secure the place.
Their Portuguese coach Pedro Gonçalves said after their camp in South Africa that they have an idea of their opponents after a Uefa aided camp held in Turkey for all participating teams.
“We have three strong teams to play against which we had a look at in Turkey and obviously they also observed our team. We believe that we can progress out of the group and qualify to the world cup bearing in mind that in the three previous U-17 Afcons, Angola never went past the group stage,” said Gonçalves.
This is going to be the fourth presence after Botswana in 1997, Guinea 1999 and Gabon 2017, exiting at the group stage on all occasions.
One particular player of concern for Uganda’s coach Kwesi Paa Fabian is Oswaldo Capemba, who topped the scorers chart with four goals at the zonal qualifiers.
The other is Zito Luvumbo, who was named Most Valuable Player at that particular tournament. Luvumbo recently had a trial with English giants Manchester United, and is awaiting a deal from Old Trafford.
“It’s an honour and big responsibility to represent my country at such a tournament.
“We going to fight hoping to clinch this title too,” Luvumbo told cafonline.com.