Cranes are already through to the finals. It means that if Uganda loses the match and Tanzania reaches eight points, it will have outclassed the other contenders, Cape Verde and Lesotho, barring unexpected comparisons on goal difference is Lesotho wins over Cape Verde. So we aren’t out of the woods yet.
While the other two members of the group have large distances separating them, Tanzania and Uganda are neighbours, members of the East African Community and having plenty of things they share.
Not least is that a few members of the Cranes squad actually play in the Tanzania Premier League and the whole team is likely to be speaking Kiswahili, even if haltingly among a few of them. This sort of situation at times mitigates the impact of a loss when brotherly relations are underlined, but it doesn’t reduce rivalry.
Both sides are keenly aware of this situation, and even in upper levels of the African Football Confederation (AFC) they will be asking questions, or checking that the level of competition was right, and nothing was tampered with.
That is the reason Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has had to put the point clear in remarks that reverberated far and wide, that Uganda Cranes should give Taifa Stars no easy ride, that no laxity should come up in that encounter. There is still a while to go but Uganda is doing what it can to assure the AFC and group stakeholders that proximity with Tanzania will change nothing.
Obviously that is as it should be, in the sense that the issue is not that Tanzania qualifies but that it properly qualified, not that it benefited from having close ties with Uganda, starting from the top leadership for that matter.
It is as if there was an AFC motto of ‘not mixing politics with sport,’ which actually applies at organizational level, while for the purpose of competition it is altogether different motto, of ‘not mixing blood with sport.’ Tanzanians and especially those who were shocked at the 0-1 result in Maseru would happily have wished that these ties be inserted discreetly, but they will not be.
The only factor that could help Taifa Stars in that regard is that it has a sort of psychological lever that Uganda Cranes will not have, namely that they will under intense pressure to achieve, not just public pressure but on their own high expectations.
They are making this intention well known before hand, even if they actually did not have to do so, and while the Ugandan leader was speaking, an alternative set of remarks was being made by Taifa Stars captain Mbwana Samatta. He did not feature in the lineup at Mbabane on having three yellow cards, and was swearing the side would make it against Uganda in Dar.
Since the Tanzanian side held the Ugandan side in Kampala, where the Cranes were unlikely to have been too relaxed, and obviously not under any instructions to relax, a 1-0 win at home isn’t unthinkable. And it would be more assured if the Ugandans, wish it or not, fail to push themselves as they have qualified.