The Uganda Cranes will kickstart their 2019 African Cup of Nations campaign on Saturday afternoon against neighbours Democratic Republic of Congo.
Uganda qualified for a second successive finals with an enviable record of four victories, a draw and just a single loss. Their only defeat in the campaign came in a 3-0 loss to Tanzania in Dar-es-Salaam, the first time Uganda conceded in the qualification process.
In 2017, the Cranes failed to go past the group stage phase, but head coach Sebastien Desabre has made it clear the objective will be qualification for the knock out phase for the first time since 1978 when they reached the finals.
“Our objective is to qualify from the group stages and after that we will see. We have the quality and we will give 100 per cent to get good results,” Desabre said.
They will face a stern test in group A, but ultimately will need to get off on a flyer in their opening game against DR Congo especially after Group A opponents Egypt scrapped through their opener against Zimbabwe.
The Leopards as the DR Congo are famously known won the tournament only twice, the last time being in 1974 when it was hosted in Egypt. They will hope that lighting strikes twice for them with the tournament also hosted in Egypt this year.
DR Congo were eliminated from the quarter finals in 2017 and reached the semi-finals in 2015 before they fell to Ivory Coast, going on to finish third. This time around head coach Florent Ibenge has also said they are ready for a title challenge.
“I think we have trained well and gauged ourselves very well in the friendly games. We will come to compete,” he told the media after their friendly game against Kenya.
DR Congo is on a five-game unbeaten run and have lost just thrice in the last 17 games. Their defence has been doing a stupendous job in these fixtures. DRC have scored seven goals in the last eight games. They have also not conceded in two of the last three games.
The Cranes picked up a 1-0 win over Ivory Coast in their last game. They have been on a good run, winning four, drawing three and lost three of the preceding 10 games.
The Cranes will look to the experience and leadership of goal keeper and captain Dennis Masinde Onyango and left back Geoffrey Walusimbi who has amassed 100 caps and was part of the 2017 Cranes AFCON squad.
Yeovil Town defender Bevis Mugabi could offer an added flavor in the defence where he could feature alongside Murshid Jjuuko and Hassan Wasswa. Khalid Aucho and Mike Azira will be tasked with providing direction and control in the midfield.
Miya Farook grabbed the winner against Ivory Coast in the final build up game and again will be on hand to provide the fire power upfront alongside Emmanuel Okwi and the un-familiar package from pacey wide man Abdu Lumala.
West Ham left back Arthur Masuaku, Wolfsburg defender Marcel Tisserand and Christian Luyindama will marshal Cranes attacking threat.
TP Mazembe midfielder Tresor Mputu, Porto defender cum midfielder Chancel Mbemba and Yousouf Mulumbu will enforce the midfield battle. Tricky midfielder Jacques Maghoma will be one to look put for while Cedric Bakambu, Yannick Bolasie and Elia Meschak shall ask questions of the Cranes defenders.
The Leopards’ fans are expected to add more colour to the event with their signature Lingala dance and fimbu na fimbu tunes against the Cranes fans and their signature vuvuzela and whistle.