Road to AFCON 2021: The Rise and fall of Uganda Cranes

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By Alex Bossa

From what looked like a vital away point in Burkina Faso to the fake Covid tests in Malawi, the face of a helpless man drowning covered the beautiful pearl with Namboole shrine still nursing Covid wounds.

The elimination of the Uganda Cranes from the 2021 AFCON to be played in Cameroon early next year has caused plenty of criticism from all corners of the country. Now that Uganda Cranes’ road to Cameroon has been brought to a halt, Ugsports digs deep into what went down for the CECAFA record champions.

With the best goalkeeper of his generation in Africa, one would ask the question whether going forward the services of long serving loyal servant Denis Onyango are still needed by the Uganda Cranes.

For starters, the Ugandan defense has been built on a strong backline with the goalkeeping department being the stronghold of this argument ever since the Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper made his debut for the Cranes.

A poor return of goals scored has been the biggest undoing with all the 3 goals coming in home wins against South Sudan and Malawi. The Cranes are yet to find a credible goal scorer ever since the retirement of Godfrey Massa from national team duties.A new crop of players like Fahad Bayo and Patrick Kaddu has emerged but are yet to live up to the standard.

The 2019 hiring of head coach Johnathan McKinstry, a flop from his previous assignments with Rwanda was a surprise to many. The 1-0 win over Ethiopia coupled with 8 more wins out of 9 mostly from the CECAFA champions gave hope to Ugandans that the country had got a marriage made of heaven with the Irish Man.

By the end of his 1st anniversary in September 2020, McKinstry’s boys were leading group B of the AFCON qualifiers with 4 points out of 2 games with no goal conceded. Then came Covid 19 which changed the fate of Ugandan football and the world at large.

While the rest of Cranes’ opponents were busy arranging international friendlies when football resumed globally, the Cranes resorted for a warm weather training in Dubai between 6th – 13th October 2020 in preparation for the Group B double – header against South Sudan.

The idea wasn’t bad but the squad which travelled to Dubai and the team which played against South Sudan in Kitende and Nyayo came into contention as several players from the Dubai training did not feature.

The 1-0 win against the Sudanese was not convincing with no identity of play which was mostly blamed on the Cranes’ absence from Namboole which was a familiar ground. It was no surprise that the Sudanese got their only win in the group against Uganda in a 1-0 win at the neutral Nyayo Stadium.

The poor performance of the Cranes at the CHAN tournament exposed the cracks on a sinking ship. The demotion of Mckinstry to a mere spectator came in too late for Abdallah Mubiru and Livingstone Mbabazi to steady the ship.

All that Laszlo Czaba, Williamson and Micho had built seems miles away with the likes of Malawi and South Sudan playing at peace and flair against the Ugandans.

FUFA’s engagement in summoning the squad for national duty is widely seen as arrogant and a lack of trust in the men they hire. This gave chance for politics to tear the team apart when Khalid Aucho was dismissed for misconduct. FUFA this time was not at fault but the timing was not ideal for the team.

The idea of the government paying a salary to national team players was good but the methodology used has been scrutinized in a sense that several players without game time or injured are continuously being summoned by FUFA for national duty.

The fitness levels of Abdul Lumala (injured for over 12 months and no game time for Pyramids), Mike Azira (no active football) and Farouk Miya (out of form) were below par but still had their way in the starting eleven against Burkina Faso.

These are hard times for the federation but how they withstand the storm will determine the Cranes’ next assignment in May when the Cranes open their World Cup qualifying campaign.

For God and my Country

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