Uganda Cranes Ready to Battle South Africa, Congo – Coach Paul Put

Uganda Cranes Head Coach Joseph Paul Put believes that the team’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying group is fair but warns against underestimating their opponents.

The draws, conducted on Thursday in Johannesburg, South Africa, placed Uganda in Group K alongside South Africa, Congo Brazzaville, and neighbors South Sudan.

Put, whose team is currently second last in the FIFA World Cup qualifying standings, sees the draw as favorable on paper for the Cranes, who are eager to return to continental football after missing out on two consecutive tournaments.

But, the Belgian, who was handed the Cranes job last year replacing Micho adds that while the group looks fair, he has come to understand that are no small teams in Africa.

“My reaction on the draw for the AFCON 2025, I think it’s a fair group, and I think it is playable, but you may not think this group is too easy or you underestimate any team because in Africa there are no small teams anymore,” Put said in reaction to the Thursday draw.

The Cranes last participated in the AFCON in 2019 under French coach Sébastien Desabre. In their most recent attempt, Uganda narrowly missed qualification by finishing third in their group, just one point behind runners-up Tanzania. Algeria topped the group with 16 points.

On paper, Uganda Cranes literally might have landed a fair group compared to the previous ones where they had to giants Algeria and neighbours Tanzania whose FIFA rankings have been improving over the years.

In this group, only South Africa was at the previous AFCON, and they too, were returning after missing out on the 2021, a scenario that perhaps supports Coach Put’s assessment of the draw as fair. But, still, Put is right when he says, “No team is small in Africa”.

The last time Uganda Cranes shared an AFCON qualifying group with South Sudan was for the 2021 AFCON qualifiers where the two teams shared six points with Uganda winning her home game and South Sudan defeating Cranes in the return leg, ultimately contributing to Uganda’s failure to qualify.

Congo Brazzaville also lost out on the last AFCON by three points to The Gambia, who qualified as group runners-up with 10 points, but they did manage to win two games and tie one in qualifying.

Coach Put says they will not allow any failures this time around. He said the team will start preparations as soon as possible to get ready for the qualifiers of CAF’s flagship event, which East Africa is also preparing to host in 2027.

Meanwhile, unlike the previous qualifying edition, where Uganda Cranes faced significant challenges due to the lack of home advantage and were forced to play away from home, this time they will be playing at the Mandela National Stadium in Namboole.

Several analysts have argued that the home advantage played a crucial role in the Cranes’ previous qualification campaigns. During the recent qualifiers, Uganda Cranes had only one opportunity to host their home game in Uganda, facing Niger at St. Mary’s Stadium in Kitende before it was also blacklisted by CAF, forcing the Cranes to seek refuge in Egypt and Cameroon.

FUFA President Moses Magogo recently acknowledged the difficulties faced in hosting games away from home, both in terms of cost and environmental disadvantage. “We had to make a bitter decision. No federation would wish to host games away from home because of the cost, because of the environmental disadvantage but we have no option,” Magogo said.

2025 Afcon qualifying draw 

Group A: Tunisia, Madagascar, Comoros, Gambia

Group B: Morocco, Gabon, Central Africa Republic, Lesotho

Group C: Egypt, Cape Verde, Mauritania, Botswana

Group D: Nigeria, Benin Libya, Rwanda

Group E: Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, Togo, Liberia

Group F: Ghana, Angola, Sudan, Niger

Group G: Cote d’Ivoire, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Chad

Group H: DR Congo, Guinea, Tanzania, Ethiopia

Group I: Mali, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Eswatini

Group J: Cameroon, Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe

Group K: South Africa, Uganda, Congo, South Sudan

Group L: Senegal, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Burundi