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AFCON 2021 qualifiers: musings after the Uganda-South Sudan AFCON 2021 Double Header

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Uganda - Cranes

After the draws were held in Cairo, Egypt on the 18 July 2019, on paper Burkina Faso ranked (59) and Uganda (80) were outright favorites to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Cameroon 2021, ahead of lowly ranked Malawi (126), and South Sudan (168).

To earn a berth in Group B, the Bright Stars of South Sudan were subjected to playing in the preliminary round, beating Seychelles National Team 2:1 in Juba and winning 1: 0 in the 10,000 capacity Stade Linité situated at Roche Caiman in the outskirts of Victoria, the capital of Seychelles.

Coming to the double-header, the Bright Stars had only lost by a goal margin, and scoring a goal in their 2:1 home game loss against a fancied Burkina Faso.

It can be argued that their game organization, revolving around defensive discipline and hitting on the counter explained their result thus far.

With four games left to play, Uganda Cranes were fancied to seal qualification on the promise that they win both games, a double-header against minnows Bright Stars of South Sudan.

However, the Bright Stars employed the same tactics on the Uganda Cranes and this visibly frustrated the Cranes over the two fixtures losing. Bright stars went on to lose 1-0 at Kitende and condemned the Uganda Cranes to their first loss of the campaign by the same margin in the away fixture played at Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi, Kenya.

As per the table stands, the Cranes will need to collect four points to guarantee qualification, playing Burkina Faso in Kampala and Malawi away in Blantyre.

As Uganda ponders its next move, below are my musings:

The midfield dilemma:

Mike Azira - Cranes

Michael Azira played so deep into his own half and yet was the only willing and abled ballplayer and passer. He hardly played forward passes to his teammates who either weren’t intricate with their runs or just shied away from the ball. He instead stringed several passes with his defenders; Timothy Awany, Ochaya, and Robert Mukiibi who kept on sending long-balls forward. It was hardly a contest between the towering South Sudan Defenders and the duo of Emmanuel Okwi and Derrick Nsibambi (who momentarily moved inwards).

With either Azira or Aucho playing the deep midfield role, a fully fit Waiswa Moses playing the advanced position, can undoubtedly claim a better partnership and possibly unlock defensive teams.

Elvis Bwomono Full Debut:

Uganda

Bwomono is a Ugandan who has had the privilege to go through the English soccer system, and currently playing for Southend Utd., the third tier overall in the entire English football league system. Performance expectations were going to be raised of the young lad by local soccer fans in comparison to the talent bred locally.

In fact, player rating in the two leading News Paper dailies accorded him an average of 4.5 and faulted him for not offering much going forward, inconsiderate of what Mckinstry’s instructions were. Mckinstry probably confirmed these concerns by deploying Wadada as his marauding right back in the return fixture but hardly yielded any results. Bwomono was later introduced for Disan Galiwango in a bid to re-adjust the shape at the back.

Appearing on the weekly NBS Score show on the 15th November 2020, Asaph Mwebaze commented on Bwomonos’ performance as; “I would not want to judge him harshly. He came into a team that communicates in a language he struggles with among so many other things. Professionally he did well.” https://twitter.com/nbstv/status/1328058887812100103

Over the years, Uganda has scouted for its foreign bred talent and convinced many to turn up for the Cranes. It turns out that with a few engagements, some fallout with the arrangement. A case in point being Martin Kayongo-Mutumba, dubbed the Ugandan “Jay-Jay” Okocha owing to his showboating skills. At the time of his call up to the cranes, He had been instrumental for his Swedish outfit AIK earning them a second-place finish in the league, which saw them qualify for the 2014/15 Uefa Europa League, and had a Man of the Match performance against Manchester United in a pre-season friendly. But lack of playing time under Milutin (Micho) Sredovich among other factors is believed to have frustrated his stay with Uganda.

So far, it can be argued that Bevis Mugabi has been the most successful of the foreign bred players, and we can only hope the same for the 21-year-old Bwomono to be guided well into the national side and become a permanent stay.

Allan Okello First and Abdul Kareem Watambalas’ first senior national team start

Abdul Karim Watamba - Uganda vs South Sudan

The two youngsters are twenty-year-olds, although Watambala was born four months earlier.

Okello plays professional football with Paradou AC in the Algerian Professional League and Watambala plies his trade with Vipers S.C the current league champions.

It has been long coming before we could witness Allan Okello start in a Cranes Jersey for the senior national team. His introduction in the last ten minutes of the game against the Bright Stars in Kampala brought life to the Cranes side, shooting at the Bright Stars Keeper more frequently than the forwards who started the game. His interplay with Farouk Miya was commended in the reverse fixture at Nyayo stadium. Persons who have ably followed Allan Okello over the years will concur with me about his ability to fall deep and drive the team forward. Mckinstry should probably consider giving him more freedom on the pitch in future engagements.

Whereas his counterpart had to wait a little longer to start for the senior national team given the longevity in the various national team groups, Abdul Kareem Watambalas’ brief cameo in the home game must have impressed the technical team. His forward pass to Ochaya who was fouled resulting in a free-kick headed into the South Sudan net by Halid Lwaliwa indeed left a mark in the eyes of many.

Mckinstry heaped praise on the lad as quoted by the New Vision;

“Some of the reasons we were attracted to Karim is that he plays with great intensity. Karim attracts everyone’s eye because he does everything with force and positivity. He is really hungry to learn and improve. We have worked with him for the past six months and he has made progress.”

The adventurous coaching team of McKinstry, Mubiru, and Mbabazi could not wait, but to throw him in the fray ‘quite early’ at Nyayo Stadium. Press reports from Nyayo stadium indicate that he was a passenger in the game, but, a big experience for the lad.

Allan Okello, Abdulkareem Watambala, Elvis Bwomono, David Owori are a talented youthful group that can enable McKinstry to transition the Cranes into his own soccer philosophy.


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