Kenya / Uganda: Uganda, Kenya renew rivalry

Statistics from all angles show Uganda head and shoulders in front of neighboring Kenya as the two start their qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup today.

Only one of them, Mali and Rwanda – who played their first game yesterday, can move into the play-offs in March next year, but whoever that is, they have to win Group E first. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the Herculean task Uganda Cranes trainer Micho Sredojevic and his Harambee stars across from Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee face this afternoon at Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi.

Test & character

“It’s a measure of test and character,” admitted Micho, who is doing his second term as a Uganda coach.

The Serb helped Uganda qualify and play in the first Afcon final in four decades when the Cranes appeared at the 2017 edition in Gabon.

“It will be a very tough game,” added the 51-year-old, “there is too much at stake. Small details will make the difference.”

His counterpart Mulee has come under fire at home after ignoring a few stars like Harambee Stars’ captain Victor Wanyama.

But Mulee defended his decisions, saying the team he chose was one that he believed could do the job not only against Uganda but for years to come.

“The mix in my Harambee Stars squad is very important to Kenya and has a lot of local players,” Mulee told NTV Kenya.

“Aside from the qualifiers, my focus is on the transition where we can encourage players who can take over when their older teammates are eliminated.”

The pragmatic coach insists that while the ultimate goal is to start strong against Uganda, it’s also how they play.

Enjoyment of preaching

“Even if you lose, you should have enjoyed the game,” said Mulee, “my philosophy is to play nice football and keep the ball.

“If you can’t enjoy the game, why play 90 minutes on the court?”

Kenya and Uganda have faced each other 76 times, with Harambee Stars winning just 22 and Uganda beating them 32 times.

In fact, in the last 12 games between the two teams, dating back to December 2007, Uganda have won seven and lost only once. Most of them were in Cecafa and friendly games. But it’s the two goalless draws in Afcon 2012 qualifiers, including the heartbreaking one in Namboole in 2011, where Uganda failed to qualify on the final day that the Cranes are still chasing.

Uganda’s ultimate men

Ismail Watenga

This is a monumental game for the Chippa Utd goalkeeper who starts as favorites ahead of Charles Lukwago and Joel Mutakubwa. This is the first game in Uganda in a long time without captain Denis Onyango, who resigned this year, in goal.

Halid Lwaliwa

He is expected to start in central defense with Express’s Murushid Juuko. You have to do your best to stop the dangerous man Michael Olunga.

Khalid Aucho

With Taddeo Lwanga out injured, Aucho’s role in midfield has never been more important.

Yunus Sentamu

In a game that can be decided by small details, you want your chances of winning Sentamu to fall. He prepared for this by scoring a goal in their 2-1 loss to Ethiopia last Sunday.

Emmanuel Okwi

The veteran Cranes striker is leading Uganda as a qualifying captain for the first time since replacing Onyango. He will be Uganda’s linchpin beforehand, especially with the lead actor Faruku Miya from this one.

Kenya’s men in mind

Michael Olunga

Kenya’s ultimate star will keep Uganda awake for the entire game. He has the pace and the physique and can score from every angle. Go to the man!

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Joseph Okumu

The outstanding defender of KAA Gent is the main organizer of the Kenyans who can also pick this one meaningful pass and score a strange goal. It will be an interesting fight between him and Okwi and his colleagues.

Eric Ouma

The Kenyan left-back needs to be kept in check as he has a tendency to play good quality balls during the transition period. He’s tough to beat even in his left back position, a job could be handed to either Milton Karisa or Ibrahim Orit.

Kenneth Muguna

The Azam midfielder is one to be silent or he will easily spot Olunga’s runs.

Abdallah Juma

The Bandari winger has scored in two of Kenya’s last three games, most recently against Togo in qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations.

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