MIYA HELPING CRANES FLY HIGH

When the draw for the group phase of the African FIFA World Cup� qualifiers was made, Uganda was given little chance of qualifying for Russia.

Farouk Miya though, will have none of it and dismisses any suggestions that he is the star player out of hand. There is no star player in our team. That makes our team so strong. It is the unity that binds us and moulds us into a team, he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.

Ugandan fans might see it differently though. Drawn against former World Cup finalists Togo in the second round of the qualifiers, Uganda did much of the hard work in the first leg in Lome, winning 1-0. A near capacity crowd of 40,000 packed the Mandela Stadium in the Ugandan capital of Kampala for the return leg. And again the Cranes emerged victorious, this time 3-0.

Having qualified for the group phase, Uganda was drawn into Group E, where they faced Ghana, Egypt and Congo. As the bottom seed in the group, not many gave the side a chance. We were the underdogs. But that does not mean we did not believe in our chance, said Miya.

Their opening match in Tamale, saw the side return to east Africa with a more-than-credible goalless draw against the Black Stars. Some five weeks later, Congo travelled to Uganda, only to be beaten 1-0. Thus, after two matches played, Uganda has four points � second only to Egypt who have six. Ghana has just a point, while Congo is yet to get off the mark.

Astonishingly, Uganda is the only African side not to have conceded a single goal thus far in their World Cup qualifying campaign. Their record reads: played four, won three, drawn one, lost none; goals scored: five, goals conceded none. And of those five goals, all but one were scored by Miya, which in turn is why fans are giving him much of the credit.

Confidence and belief

"As a team, we grew stronger when we beat Togo. They have already played at the World Cup and we gained in confidence when we advanced at their expense. Even when we were drawn into the same group as Egypt and Ghana, not to forget Congo, we still believed that we could go through to the World Cup.

The 19-year-old, who plays his club football in Belgium for Standard Liege, whom he joined from Vipers SC, says qualifying for the World Cup would be huge � not only for the team, but for the whole country. We have the support of the whole of Uganda and we so much want to go to Russia for our fans. Qualifying for the World Cup would be a tremendous achievement.

With back-to-back fixtures coming up against the leading Pharaohs, Miya is aware that the team will have to be at their best. The task will presumably not have been made any easier by the fact that coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic left the country a few weeks before the matches to join South African Premier League club Orlando Pirates. In his place, Moses Basena and Fred Kajoba will lead the team into battle against Egypt as interim coaches.

New direction for Cranes

Miya does not believe the change-over will have a detrimental effect on the team. Both coaches know the players and know how we play. I do not think there will be much of a difference and I certainly do not think that the team will be weaker as a result of our coach leaving.

Like his team-mates, Miya is indebted to the Serbian Sredojevic, for leading the team to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year. It was the first time the side qualified since 1978 and provided the young � but experienced � striker a chance to play at the continental level for the first time.

That already was like a dream come true. It was a great feeling to be able to play there. We lost at the finals in Gabon against Ghana and Egypt, so having drawn with the Black Stars in the qualifiers shows that we are stronger now than we were then.

Miya, who is known as 'Muyizi Tasubwa' (A hunter who cannot miss), scored Uganda's only goal at the finals in Gabon, in a 1-1 draw against Mali. His goals in the World Cup qualifiers could take the team to an even bigger stage: The World Cup.

Source: Confederation Africaine de Football

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