After a 38-year drought for fans and players alike, the rains finally came for the Ugandan national football team on Sunday, as the team booked their place at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Gabon. Fans who had filled the 45,000-capacity Namboole Stadium could not contain their joy at the final whistle, launching a full-blown pitch invasion to begin the celebrations, which erupted simultaneously across the country after the 1-0 victory against Comoros. With one of the youngest populations in the world, with an average age of 15, most Ugandans had not even been born the last time their country appeared in the tournament finals. Uganda’s Minister for Education and Sports Janet Museveni, who is also the first lady, saw a divine hand – if not “The Hand of God” – behind the historic win. The Ugandan team, under their nickname The Cranes, has been trending on social media across the country, with politicians also keen to show their support. Uganda last qualified for the tournament, when the country was still ruled by dictator Idi Amin. The Cranes reached the final of that tournament in 1978, losing 2-0 to hosts Ghana in the final.
Only four of the players involved in that campaign are still alive, a shocking statistic, perhaps partly explained by the fact that the life expectancy at the time they were playing was just 49 years. Defender Tom Lwanga, now 56, is one of the survivors of the team from 1978. He has kept his official accreditation as a memento of that fairytale tournament.
And if you felt bad for Ugandan fans waiting nearly four decades between tournaments, consider the 15 countries who have still never made it to the tournament finals:
- Central Africa Republic
- The Gambia
- Sao Tome
- South Sudan