David Obua believes Uganda are on the verge of a long awaited return to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals, giving him a chance to fulfil a long-cherished dream and also emulate an achievement of his father. The Scotland-based star says of a potential place for his country at next year’s finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon: “I want it so bad”.
Obua is a charismatic figure in his home country as well in Edinburgh at Heart of Midlothian, where he is completing his third successful year of Premier League football. He will be heading back to Kampala after the conclusion of the Scottish season but not for a post-season rest and relaxation. “No way,” he said about taking a break. “I can’t wait to get home because I need to get straight into camp with my team-mates.”
Uganda will be preparing for their Group J qualifier at home to Guinea Bissau on 4 June, which if they win has the potential to open up for them a healthy lead at the top of the table. With only the group winner guaranteed a berth at the 16-team finals, Uganda could then potentially be on the cusp of a first finals appearance since 1978.
Following in a father’s footsteps
It was in 1978 that the Cranes finished in a best-ever runners-up spot in the African championship. David’s father just missed the chance to play on that team, but he was a vital cog in Uganda’s three previous finals appearances in 1968, 1974 and 1976. Dennis Obua, who later became president of the Federation of Uganda Football Associations, died last year but the achievements of his glittering career continue to spur on his 27-year-old son. “I have been working so hard, with so many groups of different players in the past,” he explained about the drive to reach the Cup of Nations. “My Dad also wanted it, the fans want it, and we want to make them proud. I think we are nearly there. If we can beat Guinea Bissau at home, I think we can qualify.”
However, he knows better than to start looking past Guinea Bissau, for instance to the last two matches: away to Angola before the ultimate qualifier at home against east African rivals Kenya. “[The upcoming match] is going to be a tough game,” he said. “We beat them away in March, but we saw they had a good side and played really well and the last thing we can afford is an upset result at home. I think if we beat Guinea Bissau at home we can be assured of going to the finals. We just need to keep winning at home to qualify. It will be the best thing ever for Ugandan football.”
It will also end a run of near misses over recent preliminary tournaments, which have seen Uganda threaten to qualify but then fail at the final hurdle. “People have tried to destabilise us in the past. Always in the past, something happened to stop us from qualifying,” added the 2007 South African Premier League Player of the Year. “Tickets for players to travel from their clubs were not given to them on time, flights were not arranged, things were done badly. That’s why we didn’t make it before, but now everything is being run properly, especially the little things that matter. That’s why we have succeeded up to now.”
Everything coming together
Obua also has high praise for Scottish coach Bobby Williamson, who has been at the helm of the turnaround bid. “He’s a good coach, a motivator. He’s always calm on the bench, always encouraging us. That’s what African players need. If you are always putting pressure on them, then you are never going to get the best out of them,” explained Obua, who shares a leadership role in the side with centre back Ibrahim Ssekajja, who plays in Austria.
Obua said he always had a positive feeling about this qualifying campaign and related the conversation that he had with Ssekajja at the start of the preliminaries. “When the draw came out [with Angola, Guinea Bissau and Kenya] in the group, Ibrahim and I really felt this was our chance. We’ve been together in the national team for a long time, so we spoke about it and I told him, ‘Hey Ibra, this is our chance. If we don’t go through this time, we are never going to make it’. But I had that confidence and belief that we could go out there and do something. We had to put it to all the other boys and tell them that we have to give everything we can in each of the games that we play.”
And the former Kaizer Chiefs player, who typically plays a more defensive role with his club but in an attacking position on national team duty, has been pleased with how the Ugandans have come together. “We have a close knit group and the boys are so disciplined and work really tirelessly,” he said. “The young bunch that is there is really amazing. They work like horses, and that’s the most important thing. If you put self-belief in them, they play really well. That’s what the coach has done.”