By Kenneth Muwanga
In a draw of the second stage of the African qualifiers to the Qatar 2022 World Cup that ran on January 21, in Group E were placed Mali, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. Depending on whom you place your bets, there is a big contention who wins Group E between Uganda and Mali come October 12, 2021.
Uganda last crossed paths with Mali in a 1-1 draw during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Previously, the two sides had met at the 2016 CHAN Championships, which also ended in a 2-2 draw. Apart from those two games, the two sides had never met before.
To weigh up Uganda’s chances against The Eagles of Mali, we have to look at The Cranes’ previous visits to West Africa which have been a 1-0 loss to Burkina Faso in 2016 and a win by the same score line in Cape Verde. From the available statistics, the Uganda-Mali ties look to be entertaining ones between evenly matched sides.
The highest ranked East African side, Uganda Cranes will also play its neighbors Kenya and Rwanda. In 77th position, Uganda is separated by 29 and 54 places with the Harambee Stars and Amavubi Stars respectively. Thus, the two fixtures seem a walkover for the Council for East and Central Africa Football Association (CECAFA) record champions.
Uganda’s chance of qualifying
Uganda Cranes have always found no hardship in defeating East African sides in friendlies, but have struggled in AFCON and World Cup Qualifiers. During the 2019 AFCON qualifiers, the Cranes were placed in the same group as Tanzania where they only gained one point with zero goals scored, yet three conceded.
In the run to the 2012 African showpiece, Uganda only accumulated two points against the Harambee Stars from two goalless draws. Not forgetting the most dramatic encounter with Rwanda which dates back to June 7, 2003, a game they lost in a fully packed Mandela National Stadium, allowing their visitors to steer forward and later qualify for the 2004 continental games. During those qualifiers, Uganda was collected one point against Rwandan team.
A tough road to Qatar 2022 lies ahead for Head Coach Johnathan Mckinstry and his boys since they are, without any disappointments, expected to win points from fixtures they have previously accumulated minimal points at such big stages.
McKinstry will have to effectively use his past experience of East African football from his time at Amavubi Stars so he conquers the two neighborhood duels. As of October 12 2021, the top side of the group will qualify to the third and final stage of the qualifiers where the best teams will again be seeded against each other.
They play each other in five matches on a home-and-away basis. By November 21, the final five representatives of Africa at the 2022 World Cup will be defined.