MOTIVATION does not always come wrapped in praise and high regard — it also comes in the form of unfavourable reviews from critics, fans or the opposition.
By Enock Muchinjo
Sebastien Desabre, the coach of Uganda’s football team, may well have spurred on Zimbabwe with his less-than-flattering opinion of the Warriors ahead of the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt.
The Frenchman took many keen followers of African football by surprise this week with his remarks about Zimbabwe, suggesting that the Warriors were the weakest team in Group A — which also includes his team, hosts Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
While acknowledging the “great qualities” of the Zimbabwean side, Desabre, though, described the Warriors as “the least lucky team of the group”, adding that Egypt and the DRC posed a greater threat to his East African charges.
Ugandan football has been enjoying a purple patch in recent times.
Where in the past even their best players used to find it very difficult to break into other domestic leagues outside their own country, these days more and more foreign scouts look to Uganda as a hunting ground for football talent.
Denis Onyango, the experienced national team goalkeeper and captain, has been a mainstay of top South African club Mamelodi Sundowns for nearly a decade.
And like Zimbabwe, Uganda have also reached out to players born or raised in Europe, inviting the diasporans to represent the motherland in international football.
A few have positively responded to the call. One is England-born Bevis Mugabi, who plays for League Two side Yeovil Town.
Another is Moses Opondo, who has lived in Denmark since he was four years old and plays for top-flight club Vendsyssel FF.
Having a few guys playing in the professional environment of Europe is a boost to a lot of African teams, probably the reason Desabre is feeling a little bullish right now.
But to hold such sentiments, labeling Zimbabwe the underdogs of a group in which Uganda are involved, is slightly startling considering the inescapable reality on the ground.
It is strange that a team which until two years ago in Gabon had failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in 40 years — a team that in all honesty was handed an easy group (with Cape Verde, Tanzania and Lesotho) in these recent past qualifiers — would have a coach with such low opinion of a side that unlike them had to move mountains to go to Egypt, a side whose reputation has been growing steadily on the continent.
Very few observers in Africa will disagree right now that Zimbabwe, man-for-man, do have a better and stronger squad of the two nations in question. You then begin to wonder what yardstick Desabre has used to give himself and his team an edge over the Warriors in this group.
After examining all factors, one can only arrive at one logical conclusion really: rankings.
Quite so, take a look at the Fifa rankings now and indeed you will see Uganda placed a distant 31 places above Zimbabwe — who are the lowest ranked side by far in the group.
But you just cannot take these rankings at face value, can you, especially in a big tournament like Afcon where form and quality matters most at the end of the day.
How does one explain, for example, that seven African countries presently positioned above the Warriors today on world rankings failed to qualify for this forthcoming edition of the Africa Cup of Nations?
Congo is one of those, fascinatingly. Zimbabwe took four crucial points off them in qualifying. Had it in fact not been for wasted glorious chances in the Brazzaville leg, the Warriors could have so easily defeated the Central African team home and away in the qualifiers.
Yet the Fifa ranking system tells a different story.
To further make a mockery of the rankings, Zimbabwe was also able to claim four points off the DRC, a feat best remembered for a famous away win in Kinshasa by the Warriors. This — come to think of it — against a DRC team ranked in the top 50 on the planet, the fourth best-placed African team in world rankings.
Again, had it not been of an unfortunate own goal in Harare, Zimbabwe would have defeated the DRC home and away in the qualifiers.
For heaven’s sake even Mauritania, the no-hopers going to the Afcon finals this year for the first time in their history, are ranked seven spots above Zimbabwe on the Fifa rankings.