An air of respect filled the room on Tuesday as Uganda and Zimbabwe staff talked of each other in glowing terms amidst the weight of expectation on Wednesday when the two countries face-off in the first of two Group A Africa Cup of Nations matches at Cairo International Stadium.
While a point would all but ensure Uganda's progression, it would only keep Zimbabwe's slim survival hopes alive before the final group matches on Sunday.
“We respect Zimbabwe very much,” Uganda Cranes head coach Sebastien Desabre told a packed pre-match media conference in Cairo. “They have quality in attack, midfield and defence. But we are focused on ourselves.”
Uganda come into this one with raised stakes having stunned two-time African champions DRC and last edition’s quarterfinalists, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2-0 thanks to Patrick Kaddu and Emmanuel Okwi’s headers.
“We are focused to have a good game and forget the first. Sure we are leading the table but most important is to have maximum points to get our target,” added Desabre.
“Zimbabwe are a good team and have good individual players. It will not be easy but we are ready to do the maximum.”
Desabre’s counterpart, Sunday Chidzambwa, whose side narrowly lost 1-0 to hosts Egypt on the opening day, admits they must make it work on Wednesday but come up against tricky opponents.
"We all know they beat DRC who are also a good side,” said Chidzambwa of Uganda. "We are playing against very good opponents and if we are to produce a good result, we will have to be at our best throughout 90 minutes.”
ONYANGO'S ZIM FAMILIARITY
Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper and Cranes captain, Denis Onyango, said he knows “90 per cent of Zimbabwe players” and is happy to share insights with his team.
But the one-time Caf Champions League winner admits Zimbabwe have “quality and are fearless. We have to fight hard.”
One of the men that will be desperate to breach Onyango is AmaZulu midfielder Ovidy Obvious Karuru.
“Yeah he knows us and we also know him,” said Karuru, “We know him as a very good goalkeeper and if you have to score against Onyango you don't shoot from distance. You have to work your way through the spaces. This game is our future in this tournament.”
Desabre is unlikely to change the line-up that started against DRC, but left everyone guessing when asked why central defender Murushid Jjuuko missed Monday’s training session.
“Jjuuko has a yellow card. We need to manage him. We have many players. Tomorrow I'll take a decision.”
Should Jjuuko get a booking on Wednesday, he would miss the final group match against Egypt, although you could argue the Zimbabwe tie is more important.
Uganda Cranes probable XI v Zimbabwe:
Denis Onyango, Godfrey Walusimbi, Murushid Jjuuko, Hassan Wasswa, Bevis Mugabi, Khalid Aucho, Mike Azira, Faruku Miya, Abdu Lumala, Emmanuel Okwi, Patrick Kaddu (4-2-3-1)
Substitutes: Jamal Salim, Robert Odongkara, Isaac Muleme, Wakiro Wadada, Joseph Ochaya, Timothy Awany, Ronald Mukiibi, Kizito Luwagga, Tadeo Lwanga, Allan Kateregga, Derrick Nsibambi, Allan Kyambadde
Zimbabwe X1 v Egypt: Sibanda; Darikwa, Mudimu, Hadebe, Lunga; Nakamba, Munetsi, Karuru, Mushekwi; Musona, Billiat
Substitutes: Phiri, Pfumbidzai, Chawapiwa, Rusike, Dzingai, Chipezeze, Kadewere, Mutizwa, Mahachi, Kamusoko, Mhlanga
Uganda v Zimbabwe, 8pm
Egypt v DRC, 11pm
Nigeria v Guinea, 5.30pm
Next Group A matches, Sunday June 30
Egypt v Uganda, 10pm
Zimbabwe v DRC, 10pm
Uganda v Zimbabwe head-to-head
Uganda games won: 2
Games drawn: 6
Games lost: 5
Nov 20, 1981: Uganda 0-0 Zimbabwe - Cecafa Cup
Jun 6, 1982: Zimbabwe 2-1 Uganda - International Friendly
Jun 13, 1982: Zimbabwe 1-1 Uganda 1-1 International Friendly
Nov 20 1982: Uganda 1-1 Zimbabwe, Cecafa Cup
Nov 23, 1983: Uganda 0-1 Zimbabwe, Cecafa Cup
Jul 22, 1984: Zimbabwe 1-0 Uganda, International Friendly
Dec 4, 1984: Uganda 4-1 Zimbabwe, Cecafa Cup
Dec 16, 1987: Uganda 2-2 Zimbabwe, Cecafa Cup
Nov 8, 1988: Uganda 0-0 Zimbabwe, Cecafa Cup
Dec 6, 1989: Uganda 1-1 Zimbabwe, Cecafa Cup
Aug 22, 2004: Zimbabwe 2-0 Uganda - International Friendly
Dec 6, 2011: Zimbabwe 0-1 Uganda, Cecafa Cup
May 31, 2016; Zimbabwe 2-0 Uganda, International Friendly