Uganda Hippos will seek to get off the mark when they face off with Central African Republic in their opening Group B game at the ongoing AFCON U20 tournament in Egypt.
The Hippos are making their second appearance at the tournament after their successful debut in 2021 in Mauritania.
For their maiden appearance, Uganda reached the final where they were beaten by Ghana 2-0 in the final, in a tournament where Striker Derrick Kakooza finished as the top scorer with five goals.
The current team, coached by Jackson Mayanja, qualified for this 2023 tournament through the CECAFA U20 tournament held in Sudan last month.
Then, they beat hosts Sudan to reach the final (which was just enough to qualify) before winning the tournament after beating South Sudan 2-1 in the final thanks to goals from Issa Bugembe and Titus Ssematimba.
Mayanja is confident that his side will compete at this year’s edition after good preparations that included a 1-1 draw with hosts Egypt last week.
“It is a privilege to be here, and I have to tell you that we deserve to be at this tournament and we are waiting for nothing but kickoff,” Coach Mayanja said.
“We do not want to focus on what happened in the past, the Uganda Hippos team that lost to the final is no longer here and that’s now history.
“This is a different team, and we just hope that we can achieve or better what the other team achieved.”
Only captain Isma Mugulusi and Alpha Ssali are the surviving members from the team that reached the final in last edition.
It’s strong to note that this tournament also doubles as the African qualifiers for the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup that will be held in Indonesia. The top four teams (semifinalists) in Egypt will qualify for the World Cup in May-June 2023.
“My target is to take this team at the World Cup, we do not have any injury worry at the moment, all the boys are in good shape and ready to go.
Our focus is to see the Hippos make history.”
“About that draw against Egypt in the friendly, it was good to see how the Boys behave in this cold conditions and I was happy with a positive response.”
Uganda will face Congo on February 23 before ending their group campaign against South Sudan on Feb 26.
Top two teams in each group and the two best third placed teams (from the three groups combined), will qualify for the quarterfinals.
Ghana who are the defending champions, will not defend the title after failing to qualify for the tournament.
This will be their third appearance of CAR at the AFCON U20 tournament having made their debut in 1981.
They returned to the scene in 2020 and reached the quarter-finals in Mauritania where they were knocked out by Gambia.
Les Fauves coach Sebastien Ngato says that his side is ready to repeat the past heroics:
“Before coming we prepared the team in Morocco and we’re ready for the competition. Our target is to go to the semi-final, and we hope to achieve more than the last tournament in Mauritania,” Ngato said, as quoted by CAF.
“I’m satisfied with our preparations in Morocco, and we played two matches, and it was good that we prepared. We want to go further. This is like the World Cup for us.
“The team did well, and the team has a goal which is to come to the competition and we’re not here to have fun we have a goal. This is the category for U-20, and we have brought new players to play in this competition. We are here to give it our all,” he added.
Just like Congo, Central African Republic qualified through the Central Zone, coming out ahead of Cameroon and DR Congo.
Uganda Hippos possible starting lineup –
Abdu Magada (GK), Haruna Lukwago, Ibrahim Juma, Apollo Kakogwe, Rogers Torach, Ivan Irinimbabazi, Saidi Mayanja, Travis Mutyaba, Isma Mugulusi, Titus Ssematimba, John Paul Ddembe
Les Fauves possible starting lineup –
Uganda Hippos vs Les Fauves du CAR prediction
There is an opportunity for Uganda to repeat the feat of two years ago where they beat Mozambique and Mauritania sandwiched between the defeat to Cameroon which propelled them to second place and qualify for the quarter-finals of the competition.
Central African Republic had a victory, a draw and lost an encounter and had a superior goal difference as compared to Tunisia to qualify in second spot for the quarter finals.
In qualifying from its Central Eastern Zone, Uganda lost only to Ethiopia and harbour hopes of reaching the latter stages of the tournament.
CAR lost heavily to Congo during the qualifiers but rallied to eliminate Cameroon in its penultimate game.
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