Fahad Bayo scored the only goal as the Uganda Cranes edged Rwanda 1-0 in their Group E qualifier at the Nyamirambo Stadium in Kigali on Thursday.
It was the Cranes’ first victory under new head coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic who took over coaching reigns in August, and first victory over their rivals in their own backyard.
The Cranes had also not won a game in any competition since they defeated Niger during the build up to the African Nations Championship in January 2021, and the celebrations at the final whistle showing how much it meant to the players and the coaching staff.
Bayo’s goal was the first the Cranes have scored in five qualifiers (AFCON and World Cup), and the first they have scored in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, after both their opening games ended in draws.
Micho’s men had to endure a tough opening 40 minutes to the game, as the Amavubi Stars of Rwanda pegged them back into their half.
But with Micho deploying three holding midfielders, the Cranes were able to suffocate their hosts out of space in the midfield, forcing them to play through the wings where they were less effective.
However, Rwanda was on a number of occasions able to play through Uganda’s compact defensive set up, and nearly found the lead in the 22nd minute, but Isaac Muleme was alert to clear the ball off the line.
The Amavubi Stars continued to see more of the ball for much of the first half, as the Cranes had little success and looked disjointed when they tried to step out from their defensive zones.
The Cranes were not promised that playing against Rwanda in Kigali was going to be easy, and they did well to stick to the task, taking the lead against the run of play in the 40th minute.
Bayo starting only his second game for the Cranes, and first game since March 2021, was well placed to pounce from close range after Muleme’s effort from a free kick bounced off the post.
Rwanda continued to see more of the possession in the second half, but their extended periods of possession did not have as much effect on the Cranes who had better chances on the counter to extend their advantage.
Steven Mukwala failed to make clean contact with Muleme’s cross yards in front of goal, while Moses Waiswa beat his marker but failed to pick out the right pass as his audacious effort from a tight angle went into the side net.
Micho was forced into a substitution midway through the second half as Muleme limped off with a muscle injury and was replaced by Aziiz Kayondo, while Julius Poloto was introduced for his senior debut.
There was also a debut for URA striker Cromwell Rwothomio, coming on for Bayo who was stretchered off with a hamstring injury, while Martin Kizza and Yunus Ssentamu were also given a run out late on.
There was also a renewal of acquaintances for former Police FC defender Denis Rukundo who grew up in Uganda but decided to change allegiance to Rwanda in June 2021.
Uganda have now brightened their chances for qualification as they briefly go top of Group E on Five points, a point ahead of Mali who play Kenya on Friday.
The Cranes will look at completing back-to-back victories over Rwanda when they host their South Western neighbours at the St. Mary’s Stadium in Kitende on Sunday.
Uganda Cranes XI: Charles Lukwago (GK), Denis Iguma, Isaac Muleme, Enock Walusimbi, Timothy Awanyi, Khalid Aucho (C), Taddeo Lwanga, Bobosi Byaruhanga, Moses Waiswa, Azizi Fahad Bayo, Steven Mukwala
Subs: Isma Watenga (GK), Alionzi Nafian (GK), Innocent Wafula, Aziiz Kayondo, Mustafa Kiiza, Livingstone Mulondo, Geofrey Wasswa, Najib Fesali, Shafik Kagimu, Julius Poloto, Ibrahim Orit, Martin Kizza, Cromwell Rwothomio, Yunus Sentamu