Uganda Cranes are set to play their crucial Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying match against Niger at the Grande Stade de Marrakech Annex in Marrakech, Morocco this evening. Niger, hosting their home games away from home due to a lack of CAF-qualified stadiums, will host Uganda with little at stake, as even a win won't secure them AFCON qualification. The burden of qualification rests solely on the Cranes' shoulders, making this match a do-or-die situation.
To secure their place in AFCON, Uganda must claim victory against Niger and simultaneously rely on the outcome of the Tanzania vs. Algeria match, played concurrently. Uganda currently occupies third place in the group with four points, and they must reach seven points to maintain their AFCON aspirations. Tanzania, sitting second in the group with 7 points, stands as a formidable competitor. Besides securing a win, Uganda must address their goal difference by scoring more goals and hoping that Tanzania doesn't do the same against Algeria.
The Cranes have scored just three goals and conceded six in five games, leaving them with a goal difference of negative three. In contrast, Tanzania has a goal difference of negative one, having scored 3 and conceded 4. The Uganda Cranes head coach, Milutin Sredojević known for his defensive approach to the game, faces the challenging task of striking a balance between offensive prowess and defensive resilience.
Niger, with nothing to lose, can play without pressure, while Uganda must fight harder to seize victory from a team that previously held them to a draw at St. Mary's Stadium in Kitende during the first leg in June 2022. Team captain Khalid Aucho, standing in for the injured skipper Emma Okwi, expressed motivation among all players, both senior and less experienced, to qualify for AFCON. He stated, "The players are fine, everyone is motivated, and we are in good shape. We know what we came here to do: take Uganda to AFCON."
This match holds significance for Micho's future with Uganda Cranes. FUFA boss Moses Magogo recently stated that Micho's performance will be evaluated at the end of the 2023 African Cup of Nations qualification campaign before a final decision is made. Micho, a Serbian coach who previously led Uganda Cranes to the 2017 AFCON, was brought back in 2021 to rectify the team's previous shortcomings.
Uganda's back-to-back qualifications for the 2017 and 2019 AFCON tournaments sparked hope among fans. However, the failure to qualify for the 2021 edition strained the relationship between the Ugandan FA and Jonathan McKinstry, the coach at the time. Micho's return aimed to restore the team's fortunes, but the desired results have yet to materialize, with Uganda Cranes struggling in the ongoing AFCON qualification tournament. As they enter this crucial match against Niger, Uganda Cranes must overcome the odds and secure a victory to keep their AFCON dreams alive.