Tonny Mawejje, who plays his club football in the Icelandic first division for IBV, has played an integral part in Uganda's quest to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. In the two qualifiers that the Cranes played in June, Mawejje scored twice, first netting the only goal of the game against Liberia. A week later, Uganda were drawing 1-1 with Angola with just a minute to go and again the hard-driving midfielder came to the rescue, claiming the winner in the last minute.
The two home victories moved the side back into contention in Group J, and they are now just a point behind favourites Senegal, who Uganda will meet away in their final group match knowing that a win will see them advance to the final round of CAF qualifying.
"The feeling in the team is very high and everybody is motivated and looking forward to the game," said the 26-year-old Mawejje, who has played in qualifiers for the last three FIFA World Cups. "This is a chance for us to send a message to the world that Uganda has got talent at home."
Despite just taking two points from their first three matches, which saw a change of head coach, Mawejje says that the team is not surprised to be in with a chance to be one of the ten group winners.
"Every game we play, we play with the belief that we can win. We are in the group to win games. And we believe that one day we will qualify for the World Cup."
Following fan violence at a previous match, Senegal have been ordered to play their home games at neutral venues for a year, and Mawejje believes it is a big advantage for the Cranes not to have to play in Dakar. "We have a fifty-fifty chance as they will not have the home crowd, which plays a big part for a team."
Compounded with their return to form on the road to Brazil 2014, Uganda's strong qualifying runs for South Africa 2010 and the last two CAF Africa Cup of Nations have created a feeling that the side, who have not reached the African finals since 1978 and have never gone to a World Cup, is on the edge of a breakthrough. "I think the governing body has much to do with the improved fortunes," explains Mawejje. "They have started putting in more effort in discovering young talent in schools and clubs. These players are being brought up in academies. This is what has brought change in Ugandan football, but to sustain it, we need the government to come up with resources.
"I think we have a bright future. For many years, we have not been in big competitions, but now we are getting close and it shows the kind of possibilities for us if we are competing for qualification in the big competitions. If we qualify for the playoffs, it will show everybody that Uganda has got talent."
Playing in the cold
Mawejje, who was born in Masaka, started playing football for the Masaka Local Council club, before joining Kampala City Council FC. He then played for two other clubs in the Ugandan Super League before joining Icelandic side IBV in 2009. "Our national team captain, Andrew Mwesigwa, was playing for the club then, and he convinced the manager at the time to come to Uganda on holiday. It so happened that we had a regional tournament, the CECAFA tournament, and he saw me playing me for the national team and spotted me there."
The unmarried international, whose immediate family is all in Uganda, admits that it was not easy to settle. "It is the first world and coming from Africa was difficult at first. Also it was very cold. But now I have adapted. This is my fifth season, and I am here so long that I am used to things. It is no longer a shock. I don't speak Icelandic yet, but I understand the language."
The club has recently signed another Ugandan in Aziz Kemba, who brings the number of players from the east African country who have donned the IBV jersey to four. "The team believes in us as we have given them our best. They believe that Ugandans can make a difference when they come here. They have that trust in us."
Another one of Mawejje's team-mates in Iceland is former England goalkeeper David James. "It is quite a big thing for me to play alongside David. He is a very experienced guy, having played in Europe and the Premier League. He is a person to learn many things from."
Like most African players in Europe, Mawejje dreams of playing in a larger league, for a big club. "I would love to move to another level. I hope to have a chance to play for a big team. I am using Iceland as a stepping stone to go somewhere big. Chances are, in time, that opportunity will come."
But until then, the midfielder is happy to give his best playing for IBV and trying to lift Uganda's Cranes where they have never gone: To the FIFA World Cup.