Cranes look to fly higher
© AFP

Uganda might already be out of the race for a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, but they are not sitting back in their quest to improve. The Cranes have had a scent of their potential over the last few years and seem focused on making a determined effort for glory in future competitions.

Eighteen months ago the east African country came within a whisker of qualifying for the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Indeed, it was only a shock result in a match beyond their control which cost them the chance of qualifying as one of the best group runners-up, having been inched out of the 16 team field for Ghana 2008 when South Africa were surprisingly beaten 3-1 at home by Zambia.

In the first round of African qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Cranes were also in contention up until their final group game, but despite beating eventual group winners, Benin, it was not good enough to see them qualify for the third and decisive stage of African qualifying as one of the best runners-up.

However, their home victories in the qualifying campaign against Angola, Benin and Niger, combined with recent friendly victories against Sudan and Malawi has helped to move Uganda up to 69th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, just three spots away from their highest-ever position, which was achieved 14 years ago.

The only way we can really go about changing things is to try and move up the FIFA rankings. If we do that and start to bring in a bit more cash and use it wisely, it helps everyone.
Uganda's Scottish coach, Bobby Williamson.

The nation has spent most of the decade outside the top 100, but there is hope the Cranes will be able to regain the preeminent position which they enjoyed in African football in the early 1970s. Frustratingly, however, the outlook for competitive football is somewhat bleak at the moment, as they will have to wait until mid-2010 for the preliminaries for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations.

It is a target that preoccupies their Scottish coach Bobby Williamson, who has been tasked with the rebuilding of the side after the recent setbacks. "It would be good to keep getting results, but I couldn't say specifically what would count as serious success here," he said. "For me, getting one or two of these lads a professional contract in Europe would give me as much satisfaction as anything else. However, I am doing a job that I love and the people here have been very good to me."

"The only way we can really go about changing things is to try and move up the FIFA rankings. If we do that and start to bring in a bit more cash and use it wisely, it helps everyone. However, it is difficult. The facilities are poor and we are playing games across a massive geographical area, so there is lot of travelling involved. That can take its toll on players before games, but right now that is just the way it has to be."

There was a major fillip for football in the country in the East and Central African Senior Challenge Cup where Uganda won the regional title with a 1-0 triumph in the final over arch-rivals Kenya. It marked a record-breaking tenth title for Uganda but it was their first in five previous attempts. Uganda's immediate ambition will be to retain the title at the end of the year when Kenya are due to host the event.