By Fred Kaweesi
Botswana 1 Uganda 3
World Cup qualifier
Senegal v Uganda
CRANES have suffered a series of false dawns in their quest to qualify for major tournaments. Uganda has still failed to qualify for the Africa Nations Cup finals since 1978 and surely an appearance at the biggest showpiece —the World Cup —is indeed far-fetched.
But football is such an unpredictable sport that although Cranes’ attempts to make major championships in the past have been a roller coaster of severe heartbreaks, there is always a first time to everything.
On Saturday, coach Micho Sredojevic’s charges provided compelling evidence that a win — and a comprehensive one at that — away from home is possible.
If Cranes ever needed an extra injection of confidence and self-belief that anything is indeed possible, their 3-1 win over hosts Botswana in Gaborone with an under strength squad, should provide every bit they needed.
Cranes confronted a far stronger Botswana side without integral stars such as Tony Mawejje, Andrew Mwesigwa, Isaac Isinde, Martin Mutumba and Geoffrey Massa but still managed to claim a historic win, thanks to Emmanuel Okwi’s well-taken double and Frank Kalanda’s third goal.
As a result, Tolango Sembowa’s strike for the hosts proved a mere consolation in a game where Micho’s team produced a performance high on defensive quality, commitment and organisation to signal their serious intentions ahead of the clash in Marrakesh.
Interestingly, Micho’s response after the game was the epitome of cautious optimism. Of course, the odds are placed in favour of the star-studded Senegalese, who, despite the absence of first team stars Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, need just a draw to progress to the play-offs.
Over the last couple of months, Micho has been credited for Cranes’ impressive run in both the World Cup and Africa Nations Championship qualifiers.
But the Lions of Teranga will present an unfamiliar challenge for him that even his broad shoulders will find somewhat too heavy to carry.
“If we follow the programme I have organised then we can have a good chance,” Micho told New Vision Sport last week.
During the team’s three-day training camp in Istanbul, Micho will work on two areas. He will need to decide whether to opt for man-toman or zonal marking in a bid to thwart Senegal’s 6ft plus stars during crosses or setpiece situations.
Man-to-man marking is a defensive strategy where defenders are assigned a specific opposition player to mark while zonal marking is a defensive strategy where defenders cover an area of the pitch rather than marking a specific opponent.
Equally important will be a strategy on how Cranes’ strikers will find space behind Senegal’s gangly four defenders Cheikh M’Bengue (6ft), Pape Djilobodji (6ft4) with Lamine Sane (6ft3) and Pape Souare (5ft10).
Micho chose to have the training camp in Istanbul because the weather in the Turkish capital is a lot similar to that in Marrakesh where the game will be played.