The agony of losing in the final aside, the Hippos maiden appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations Under-20 in Mauritania is one that can be labelled as a success.
That remains the general feeling among fans and was evident too as domestic football governing body Fufa treated the Hippos team to a welcome luncheon in Entebbe yesterday.
Having initially set a target of reaching the knockout stages, the Hippos progressed further edging Burkina Faso in the quarterfinals before a convincing 4-1 win over Tunisia saw them reach the final before losing 2-0 to Ghana.
“As a player I learned that playing in a tournament is not about the history of the team but what the team can do. We went to the tournament as underdogs as it was our first time competing at the tournament. But as a team we were very strong,” explained forward Richard Basangwa, who initiated the rout of Tunisia with the opening goal and an assist.
Left back Aziz Kayondo meanwhile put the team’s memorable run down to belief after encountering many doubters during their stay in Mauritania.
“The tournament has shown us that everything is possible. We went to some of the meetings and they only knew Uganda as a force in athletics but not as a strong footballing nation. So every team undermined us. But this motivated us as players,” stated Kayondo, who alongside Derrick Kakooza and coach Morley Byekwaso were named on the Team of the Tournament.
Kayondo, who hailed Byekwaso’s influence on the team, also believes their good showing at the tournament could see a number of players earn moves to more lucrative leagues across the globe.
“We were a unit and played for each other regardless of the minutes one played. That unity and playing to the coach’s instructions helped us even in games where we conceded first.
“Many scouts approached us and God willing we will get some deals. But personally I have a good agent who will handle that if the chance comes and even if I don’t move on I am positive of getting another chance,” added Kayondo, who is under the agency owned by former Cranes striker Eugene Sepuya.
At the function, Fufa president Moses Magogo revealed the team will share close to Shs600m ($160,000) for reaching the final. A quick breakdown shows each member will pocket $4,000 (Shs14.6m).