“Let’s play, let’s play,” Fred Kajoba, the Simba SC coach screams out to his players at the touchline, reminding them to pass the ball instead of hacking it away.

For Kajoba’s Simba, having not won anything for the last 33 years, hunger for success is at a premium. But they want to enjoy themselves whilst setting out for success, something they lacked during last season’s Uganda Cup final.

Ending up as beaten finalists to Victors was the last thing Simba had expected. Yet after sharing two goals in normal time, Simba lost the resulting shoot-out 5-4.
The loss was hurting for Simba who had hoped to exorcise the ghosts of 1998 when Villa beat them 2-0 in the Uganda Cup final. Kajoba was in goal then and could only watch Villa striker Hassan Mubiru dribble past him each time before bagging his brace.

Simba’s only successes came in the 1970s when they won two Super League crowns in 1971 and 1978. The two feats sandwiched a Uganda Cup win that came in 1977 courtesy of a walk-over Nytil FC. With Simba preparing to take on Express in the Uganda Cup semifinals this Friday, one can understand the army side’s unwavering desire to make history this year.

Simba assistant coach, Steven Kiggundu told The Observer that failure last year still hurts the players, especially since they scored first and missed many chances to kill off the game. “Simba wants to play on the continent like they did in 1999,” said Kiggundu.

During the spot-kicks, Simba self-destructed. Their star attacker, the gangly Richard Lubwama, missed a crucial penalty. An opportunity has availed itself now for Lubwama to make amends by beating his former employers, Express. Simba go into this tie full of confidence having beaten Express twice this season with the solitary goal both home and away.

Kajoba says they struggle to play an attractive brand of football because they don’t have the resources to bring on board players who can prop pretty patterns. And the team mainly relies on raw talent. For instance, since Musa Mudde left Simba for Sofapaka FC in Kenya, the army side hasn’t had any star player in its ranks.

Yet, his departure wasn’t unprecedented. After the 2008/2009 season, Simba lost good players like Willy Kavuma, Ibrahim Jjingo, Henry Kalanzi, Sula Sebunza, Hassan Mukiibi, Dan Sebuliba and Isaac Isinde. This followed a new policy stipulating that all Simba’s players be enrolled in the army.

However, the fact that the team is still afloat, fourth on the league table, proves that with good coaches and administration, a team can succeed. Only URA has managed to beat Simba in its Bombo home this season. And it seems not to matter that the team isn’t playing fluid and attractive football.

Team skipper and captain, Godfrey Wakaza, has scored nine league goals this season and remains the league’s second top scorer. He reckons there’s nothing wrong with their approach.

“First of all,” he says, “we force opponents to play our style of game and once they shift from their plan, we pounce because they can’t play our style as well as we do.”

Teams like Proline, Maroons, Villa and Bunamwaya can attest to that.  The zeal exhibited by players like David Walusimbi, Ausi Kaaya and Edward Muwenda, Innocent Wahib, Swaib Sebalu, Moses Okello and Joshua Kabale is untenable. They don’t allow you space but breathe down your neck resiliently.

Although toughness has for years been the hallmark of previous Simba teams, like that of 1998 to 2002 which had Ibrahim Kirya (URA assistant coach), Sula Walusimbi (invisible man) and Ronald Kamoga (stick-man), there’s clearly a big distinction in the style of forward play coach Mike Mutebi fronted at Simba then.

The team doesn’t have the forward imagination of Ibrahim Buwembo and the midfield industry and craft of the pint-sized pair of David Kalungi and David Lukwago. But they will hope to deny Express an 11th Uganda Cup crown. Victors, also Uganda Cup winners in 2008, battle 2005 winners URA in the other semi-final.

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