Uganda prove there's life after Micho with shock Egypt victory

Uganda Giulio Petrocco/AFP/GettyImages

Milutin Sredojevic naturally received considerable praise when Uganda qualified for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, ending their near-four-decade wait for a spot at the continental high table.

They may have fallen in the first round, but their rugged physicality, defensive organisation and the frankness of both players and coach won them plaudits across the continent.

However, Micho's exit from his post earlier this month - citing non-payment by the federation - threatened a regression to the status quo.

Nations such as Zambia, Congo-Brazzaville and even Cape Verde are recent examples of teams who have threatened to break consistently into the top strata of African sides, only to disappoint once a finely balanced dynamic is disrupted.

With Uganda, for whom Sredojevic's impact was so marked, a decline had appeared almost inevitable.

On the evidence of Uganda's World Cup qualifying victory over Egypt on Thursday - a 1-0 triumph in Namboole after Emmanuel Okwi's second-half strike - however, there's life after Micho, and Cranes fans will be believing that a maiden appearance at football's global showpiece isn't such a distant dream.

Regardless of Ghana's result against Congo in Kumasi on Friday, Uganda will go into the halfway stage of the qualifiers on top spot in Group E, and neither the Black Stars nor the Red Devils will be able to overtake the East Africans before matchday five if they avoid defeat in Alexandria on Tuesday.

Most encouragingly for Uganda, perhaps, was the nature of the triumph over Egypt.

Admittedly, the poor surface at the Mandela National Stadium stymied the Pharaohs' attacking approach, but the characteristics that Micho imbued into the side remain.

Hassan Wasswa was booked inside the first minutes as the Cranes demonstrated the same rugged approach that neutralised Egypt for 89 minutes at the Nations Cup, while the team counter-attacked effectively, almost capitalising on an early miscommunication between Ahmed Hegazi and Essam El-Hadary.

Largely, Uganda remained compact and disciplined, preventing the visitors from building momentum and from upping the tempo.

Even when Egypt did craft a decent chance - as a superb cross from substitute Ramadan Sobhi picked out Mohamed Salah - captain Denis Onyango was equal to the effort, pulling off a superb save.

Onyango told KweséESPN before the match that no other stopper on the continent could match him for recent form, and this match served as a reminder that Uganda boast one of Africa's finest between the sticks.

When the Mamelodi Sundowns man is in this kind of form, he represents a magnificent final barrier for any attackers who may break through the Ugandan defence, and a source of encouragement and belief for his teammates.

He also demonstrated his experience, nous and...let's be honest...gamesmanship late on with excessive time-wasting that ultimately earned him a yellow card.

While Onyango may be the Cranes' outstanding individual, Micho oversaw the progress of several talented players in this collective, with goalscorer Okwi and wonderkid Farouk Miya both in fine fettle on the day.

Striker Geoffrey Massa may have retired, but Okwi's dribbling, movement and agility make him a threat across the attacking line, and he got off one or two snapshots - beyond his goal - which troubled El-Hadary.

19-year-old Miya also forced a stop from the veteran keeper early in the second half, while Tony Mawejje is another excellent option to come back into the side for the rest of the campaign.

Sredojevic was well aware of the value of momentum, and even though he may have departed, this talented Ugandan collection have the quality, the discipline and - most importantly - the belief that they could yet be East Africa's first-ever World Cup representatives.

As this triumph proved, there's life after Micho yet.