Great nights in Ugandan football

Guinness Night Football aims at taking the game beyond traditional football to bring out the colour and vibrancy of the players and fans in a series of unforgettable activities. In honour of this great night of football, Goal, in association with Guinness, reviews some of the most memorable nights in the history of Ugandan football, celebrating those occasions which brought the country together and guaranteed some unforgettable memories.

Afcon finalists

Uganda endured a long spell in the wilderness following their glory years of the 1970s, but have begun to return to the pinnacle of the African game in recent years, where they’ve enjoyed some great nights.

The Cranes featured in four Africa Cup of Nations competitions between the late 1960s and late 1970s, competing at the continental showpiece in 1968, 1974, 1976 and 1978.

It was in the last of these four appearances that they enjoyed their finest hour, with heroes such as Philip Omondi, Godfrey Kisitu and Moses Nsereko inspiring the Cranes to a final showdown with Ghana.

Unfortunately, that encounter in Accra went against the Cranes, with Opoku Afriyie netting twice to secure a 2-0 victory for the Black Stars.

Uganda had fallen short, but they’d graced the biggest match in the continental footballing cycle, and proved that the East Africans could go toe to toe with some of Africa’s biggest nations.

A return to the Nations Cup

However, Uganda were unable to build on that success, and decline set in over the subsequent decades.

The great moments of that tournament - the 2-1 semi-final victory over Nigeria in Kumasi, the 3-0 thumping of Morocco in the groups stage - became a distant memory as the Cranes plummeted down the continental standings.

In recent years, however, Uganda are returning to prominence, and under Milutin Sredojevic and Sebastien Desabre, have begun to enjoy some great nights yet again.

Memorably, Serbian Sredojevic ended Uganda’s 39-year wait for a spot in the Nations Cup when they advanced as the best-placed second-placed team during the 2017 qualifying campaign.

Progression was secured during an unforgettable evening in Kampala, as Farouk Miya scored the only goal of the game with a first-half effort to down Comoros 1-0 to reach Gabon.

First Afcon points for four decades

At the tournament proper, Uganda won many admirers for their earnest and hard-working displays, although they found the going tough with opening defeats against Ghana and Egypt.

They bounced back in their final group game, taking a point from Mali in Oyem, with Miya again the hero after opening the scoring in the 70th minute, before Yves Bissouma cancelled out his strike three minutes later.

Uganda were unable to get a win, but in 2016, they’d returned to the African top table, and then in 2017, took their first point at the tournament for almost four decades.

Pharaohs stunned in Kampala

Sredojevic ultimately departed, but not before a magnificent start to the qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup.

A draw away at Ghana and a win at home against Congo-Brazzaville - with Miya again the hero - put Uganda in a commanding position heading into their home game with Egypt on August 31.

On this occasion, Emmanuel Okwi, not Miya, was the hero, stunning the Pharaohs with a 51st-minute goal, sending shockwaves through the continental giants.

Mohamed Salah’s one-man battle with Denis Onyango was one of the unforgettable subplots of this contest, and the return match in Alexandria, as while the Liverpool superstar was able to best the experienced stopper in North Africa, he was unable to find a way past the Mamelodi Sundowns man in Kampala.

Uganda took three valuable points and, for a while, at least until their campaign unravelled following Micho’s exit, it appeared as though they could dream of featuring at the World Cup in Russia.

Desabre’s Cranes shine at the Afcon

When Frenchman Desabre took to the helm, there were questions about whether he could maintain the good form of Micho, but he did…in style…adding some style to the undoubted substance the Serbian had cultivated.

The urbane Desabre took his time to get a first win under his belt, but after securing Afcon qualification with matches to spare, he finally begun to get the best out of the players.

Notably, Desabre got Uganda out of the group stage of the Nations Cup in 2019, while also overseeing the Cranes’ first win in the tournament in 41 years.

This was one of the most memorable nights in the country’s footballing history, as they upset the Democratic Republic of Congo 2-0 in Cairo to assert their dominance within Group A.

They were ultimately defeated by Egypt and held by Zimbabwe, but those goals from Patrick Kaddu and Okwi in the opener against the Leopards was enough to take them through in second-place behind the hosts.

It was a magnificent performance at the Cairo International Stadium, as Uganda attacked vibrantly, with Miya excelling, and shook off their underdog tag in some style.

What does the future hold?

Patrick Kaddu of Uganda v Dr Congo

Ultimately, Uganda’s Afcon dream would end in the Round of 16 against eventual finalists Senegal, where Sadio Mane’s sole goal was enough to end Desabre’s side’s run in the competition.

The Frenchman ultimately departed in the aftermath of the tournament, but his exit didn’t mean the end of Uganda’s climb back to the summit of the continental game.

Incoming Northern Irish coach Johnny McKinstry secured the first win of his tenure last month, as Okwi scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 friendly victory over Ethiopia.

He represents a creative appointment by Fufa, and could well be the man to ensure the great nights continue in Ugandan football for some time to come.