By Fred Kaweesi
Just minutes after Uganda’s Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) hopes had been shattered inside the Cape Town Stadium on Monday night, the Cranes trudged back to the dressing room for a brief talk.
Coach Micho Sredojevic, the figure that had significantly been responsible for the team’s remarkable run in the tournament, started the healing process.
Rather than dwell so much on the 3-1 defeat to Morocco that had ultimately ended talk of a place in the quarterfinals, the Serbian opted to preach about the pros of the outing in South Africa and how qualifying for the 2015 Africa Nations Cup tournament was now a more realistic and achievable target.
“The players were deflated. I could see they were disappointed. But I had to remind them of how good they were from the first game and how ready they are to graduate to the senior side,” Micho told New Vision yesterday.
“The message was clear. I now believe we will qualify for AFCON 2015. That is going to happen,” he added.
Over the years, Cranes have suffered a series of false dawns in their quest to qualify for major tournaments.
But such is the progress that Cranes have made over the last four months and such is the strength in depth of the team now that Micho is more than convinced of his side’s qualities and stature among the big boys of African football.
In South Africa, Cranes’ home-based team provided compelling evidence of Cranes strengths.
“The tournament has been a success for us. I have been able to identify players that will strengthen the senior team ahead of the qualifiers,” Micho pointed.
The Serbian highlighted positives from the tournament that point to a bright future.
“We scored three goals from open play. That is a huge step forward in terms of the new style we have set out to play. The confidence in the team is also high. The players appreciate and work for each other now. That confidence and togetherness told in our first win against Burkina Faso. The draw against Zimbabwe wasn’t bad either as there were plenty of positives from that game.”
In all three Group B matches, Cranes produced performances high on defensive quality, commitment and organisation.
Although they collapsed to a huge defeat against Morocco, the result was not a true reflection of how the game rolled out.
The Cranes, who reportedly had the youngest side at the tournament, matched the Atlas Lions pound for pound. They fell behind after Rajik Abdessamad’s goal but fought back to even scores through Yunus Sentamu.
With the game finely poised at 1-1, it took a moment of individual brilliance from Mouhsine Lajour to separate the two sides.
The Cranes then attempted to fight back, and almost scored through Francis Olaki, but from a counter-attack, El Aouadi struck to seal Uganda’s fate.
With dust from elimination fast-settling, Micho is in the process of recommending friendly games that —if confirmed —should make Cranes a formidable unit.
“My target now is to organise five friendly games before the qualifiers start in September. We will have stiff competition in all the positions. That’s what I have always wanted.”
Micho insists Cranes will qualify for AFCON