Uganda Ends 38 Years of Hurt to Qualify for Africa Cup of Nations

Uganda football team
Ugandan players celebrate following a goal during their AFCON 2017 qualifier against Botswana in Francistown, Botswana, on June 4. The country has qualified for the tournament for the first time since 1978. MONIRUL BHUIYAN/AFP/Getty Images

"Thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming."

So goes the classic English football anthem Three Lions , released to coincide with the 1996 European Championships, lamenting the dearth of a national trophy since 1966 (an absence that has continued for 20 years since the song's release).

English fans should count themselves lucky, however, compared to the plight of Uganda. The East African nation has, for the past 38 years, failed to even qualify—never mind win—the continental biennial tournament, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).

But that all changed on Sunday when, finally, the team nicknamed the Cranes defeated Comoros 1-0 in the Ugandan capital Kampala, sparking a pitch invasion and sending players sobbing on their knees after qualifying for the 2017 AFCON tournament, the first time since 1978.

Throwback to last evening: Ugandans celebrate #UgandaCranes historic win after the team qualified for #AFCON2017

— NTV UGANDA (@ntvuganda) September 5, 2016

The victory was a tense one, with the only goal coming in the 34th minute from Farouk Miya, a teenager who plays in the Belgian league with Standard Liège. Coverage of the victory has dominated the media in Uganda, with several national newspapers leading with the team's achievement.

National coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic and singled out the team's away form as key to their campaign—in their six matches, Uganda picked up two victories away from home out of three fixtures. "This should be the routine rather than the exception," said Sredojevic, according to Uganda's Daily Monitor.

Qualification was welcomed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the former military ruler, who has been in charge of Uganda since 1986. "You have done us proud!" a statement tweeted from Museveni's account on Sunday exclaimed.

The team will now compete in the 2017 tournament from January to February in Gabon. Five other teams—Burkina Faso, Botswana, Tunisia, Togo and Democratic Republic of Congo—also sealed qualification on Sunday, joining hosts Gabon and 10 other teams that had already ensured their passage to the tournament; Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Morocco, Senegal and Zimbabwe.

Besides its inglorious AFCON history, Uganda has also never made it to a World Cup.