How Cranes Missed AFCON Qualification: 1980-1992

Only ten days are left for the crucial Uganda Cranes tie against Comoros in the 2017 AFCON qualifiers. Only three points from this game to be played on 4th September can guarantee Uganda a qualification spot. Ceteris Paribus.

The country last appeared at the continental showpiece over 38 years ago. In that period, this the continent has hosted about 19 different finals. Here we race through that (Cranes) ‘infamous sabbatical’ from the 1980 up to the recent 2015 series.

The dark era 1980-1984

After reaching the 1978 finals in Accra and controversially losing to Ghana, Uganda could not compete in the 1980 and 82 qualifiers and consequent finals in Nigeria and Libya respectively. Several theories have been highlighted to explain the why, however insecurity played a bigger part.

The country experienced one of the most brutal era in history beginning with insecurities late in 1978 that later saw Idi Amin’s government toppled On April 19 1979.

Several players served in the army (automatically playing for Simba)riuyom the 1978 squad

Paul Ssali [(GK) was jailed until 1981], Godfrey Kisitu (fought in the war) and Fred Isabirye whose life was claimed in the war. All the three were Simba FC members who made the starting team in 1978 finals.

However, the local league continued thereafter with Nile breweries), KCC FC (80? & 83), SCVilla (82? & 84?) winning the respective titles.


Uganda returned to international football in 1983, with their first assignment Tanzania in the preliminary rounds. The Cranes made a good account in the first leg holding the Taifa Stars to a one all stalemate in Dar Es Salaam and then a hard-fought victory in a five-goal thrilling second leg to progress 4-3 on Aggregate.

They met Madagascar in the first round and went on to lose 1-0 in Antananarivo and only needed to win by a two goal margin in Kampala. Unfortunately, the Peter Okee’s second stint was doomed and the Madagascans picked an away goal in a 2-1 loss. Madagascar went on to lose to Malawi in the second round.

The Cameroon 1986 qualifiers were not any different or rather worse. Cranes were again drawn with Tanzania in the preliminary round where they went on make a goal advantage away but were surprised at home when the Taifa stars overturned the result to a 1-3 victory in Nakivubo. Sadly the Tanzanians withdrew from the qualifiers. The unexpected loss cost coach George William Mukasa’s job paving way for Barnabus Mwesigwa whose target was 1986 Cecafa and Morocco 1988 continental appearance.


Mwesigwa’s boys whitewashed Somalia 5-0 in the first leg of preliminary round in Kampala and maintained the score line after a barren result in Mogadishu. The defining moment presented on Sunday 29th March 1987 when the Indomitable Lions from Cameroon paid the debt for Somali clawing Cranes 5-1 with Italia90 greats Ebelle “Eugène” Ekeke (12?), France-based François Omam-Biyik scoring a brace in three minutes (49?,52?) and the great Roger Mills completing the rout in 70th minute. Nkata consoled!

The boys put up a spirited fight but were two goals short after 90 minutes in Kampala despite a memorable 3-1 victory.

As usual the talk shifted to the next edition but the team withdrew from the qualification and registered in the Senegal 92 qualifiers.

CAF commenced the cluster format with Uganda falling in group 8 alongside Zaire, Tanzania and Gabon (next year’s hosts).

Cranes kick started the campaign on the Back foot falling by a goal Gabon on August 19th 1990. The Cranes revived hope of their ever-loyal fans with consecutive 2-1 and 3-2 victories over Zaire and Tanzania but result was dented after a goalless draw in Gabon’s second meet on 27th April 1991.

Zaire’s 1-0 revenge in Kinshahsa and a barren draw against Tanzania on the final day in July 1991 left Cranes with six points, one behind leaders Zaire. AND THAT WAS THE FIRST CLOSEST CRANES TRY.

Next we look at the 90s era and early 2000s up to the Kenya, Zambia debacle!

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