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Cranes, Stars battle in Egypt

Cranes players train Egypt

Cranes players train Egypt

For Uganda Cranes, the stakes can never be higher. Friday’s showdown with Tanzania Taifa Stars in the Egyptian city of Ismailia is a match Micho Sredojevic’s side can’t afford to lose.

But not only that, Cranes don’t even have the luxury of sharing spoils. It is a must-win encounter in every sense of the word and the coaches are aware. The players too are aware of the scale of importance the match in Ismailia holds for Uganda’s chances of qualification in Group F.

Uganda, who chose to play their home matches in the group in Egypt owing to lack of a Caf-certified venue for Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, have been very unimpressive in the campaign thus far with a defeat in Algeria and a poor 1-1 stalemate with Niger.

Yet Uganda Cranes can breathe life to the team’s chances with victory over the Taifa Stars. With Algeria heavy favourites to beat Niger in Algiers, Cranes could rise to second position with a win. The other way of logically analysing Group F is that Algeria will top the group anyway; so, all three teams are fighting to finish second.

Tanzania will have an axe to grind with Uganda considering that it was Cranes that denied the Taifa Stars a place at the Championship of Africa Nations in Algeria early this year. Uganda triumphed 4-0 on aggregate in the two-legged qualifiers last year.

The last time Uganda Cranes hosted Tanzania, back then in the pre-Covid times when the national teams were playing matches at Namboole, it took the heroics of the now retired Dennis Onyango to earn Sebastien Desabre’s then Cranes team a 0-0 stalemate.

In the return leg in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania whipped Uganda 3-1 but Cranes had already secured qualification to the 2019 edition. Since then, a lot has transpired in the national team.

Players like Hassan Wasswa and Onyango have retired, others like Nicholas Wadada have been discarded while new management has been entrusted to preside over a transition period for Cranes; one that it is hoped will prepare and embolden the team that can make a genuine qualification attempt at the 2026 Fifa World Cup.

But old problems persist. The country still struggles to score goals. And it is also true that the national team struggles to fashion palpable chances. It explains why Uganda has only scored once in the qualifiers. The recall of players like Joseph Ochaya is proof that the transition process has somewhat been shelved in favour of veteran players to try to steady the ship in a faltering campaign.

Skipper Emmanuel Okwi is part of the team but he is at the tail end of his international career. Ideally, players like Rogers Mato, Steven Mukwala, Richard Basangwa and Fahad Bayo should be the core unit of attackers to command first team positions in the transition, but the inclusion of the old guard is evidence that Micho is not entirely convinced with their maturity.

The development of Allan Okello has also stalled while Faruku Miya, once the toast of the national team, has been infuriatingly poor in recent Cranes games. But the summoning of Steven Sserwada, Bobosi Byaruhanga and Isma Mugulusi shows that there remains a deliberate effort to build a cornerstone for the new Cranes.

A transition is a gradual process that must be managed over a period of time, which indeed explains why Khalid Aucho is still an integral part of Micho’s team. In fairness to the midfielder, he has been among the team’s better players in a period
of indifferent results. And it is also important to note that Aucho is not old despite having been part of the national team for some time.

Tanzania’s threat will be posed by Mbwana Samatta, whose record of 22 goals in 68 internationals makes him a potent threat. The Genk striker is blessed by pace and trickery and will test the likely central defence pairing of Timothy Awany and Halid Lwalilwa.

The choice of who starts in goal will be an interesting one, considering that Charles Lukwago has been decent since taking over from the former captain Onyango. Nafian Alionzi was outstanding at the Chan tournament and there has been a shock recall of Salim Omar Magoola to the national team fold.


Friday, March 24

• Uganda v Tanzania
• Algeria v Niger
• Tunisia v Libya
• Cameroon v Namibia

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