By Fred Kaweesi
SO the Uganda Cranes are out of the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. Should we be disappointed over that? Yes and No!
Yes, because Cranes were superior and performed better than Senegal during their 1-0 defeat on Saturday night.
No, because the Cranes were practically not ready to play at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
To be honest, I didn’t fancy the Cranes qualifying for the final play-offs of the World Cup qualifying campaign.
Why? In the history of the World Cup, no country has ever qualified for the world’s biggest showpiece without making an impression at the Africa Nations Cup.
Now, Uganda has not only failed to qualify for the continental finals since 1978, there is a need to assemble a side with an established spine of players competing in fairly decent leagues around Africa or Europe.
Of course it’s always good to be ambitious. But experienced World Cup campaigners will tell you that football is a sport that thrives on reality rather than fiction.
At the moment, Uganda isn’t ready for the World Cup but should be in the next eight years after gathering some reasonable experience from taking part in one or two Nations Cup finals.
On the evidence of the team’s performance on Saturday night, the Cranes have grown in leaps and bound. They have significantly reduced the gulf between them and top African sides.
The Cranes are well capable of qualifying for the Africa Cup finals in 2015 because in Micho Sredojevic, Uganda do not only have an astute tactician, they have a figure that has ably found the right pieces that have been so absent in the past.
Resolve Massa mess
All Micho needs to do between now to the CHAN championship and AFCON qualifiers next year is to draw a line between professionalism and personal vendetta. I cannot authoritatively analyse or claim to know the real circumstances that saw Geoffrey Massa dropped from the Cranes team. Only Micho and Massa do.
Emma Okwi had an uncharacteristically quiet game. Photo by Mpalanyi Ssentongo
But all I know is that the Cranes desperately missed the South Africa-based striker in Marrakesh.
When Cranes embarked on preparations for the fixture against Senegal a month ago, the rules were clear; outscore Senegal and qualify.
This is what Cranes did against Liberia (1-0), Angola (2-1) and with the revamped Emmanuel Okwi still in their ranks, there was a possibility of a remarkable result against Senegal in Marrakesh.
The added bonus is that Cranes knew what challenge stood before them in the Lions of Terranga.
During their first round meeting in June last year, the Cranes clearly struggled under the physical might of the West Africans.
They were bullied throughout large spells of this game until Massa came off the bench, troubled the back-four and from one of several darting runs, won Cranes a penalty that Godfrey Walusimbi struck home on 87 minutes to inspire Uganda to a 1-1 draw.
In Marrakesh, Cranes clearly needed Massa to support Emmanuel Okwi.
Over the years, Massa has been castigated for his ‘poor goals return’ with the Cranes.
True, he has not scored that regularly for the team and his chance-per goal ratio is wanting. But the trick is partnering him with a natural goal scorer (Okwi) as he offers the team a lot going forward. Massa is fast and has often given the team pace and power over 90 minutes.
Okwi was wasted
In Marrakesh, Cranes needed a character that would irritate Senegal defenders Gassama Lamine and Souare Pape Ndiaye with a shove here, an elbow there and the trickery to win set-pieces.
Hamis Kizza was lively and created the best scoring chances for Uganda. Photo by Mpalanyi Ssentongo
Okwi managed some but at the expense of other strengths.
The Tunisia-based striker spent more time engaged in physical confrontations rather than feed off any lose balls. Okwi’s pace and eye for goal can be an asset for any team.
He also runs through the channels brilliantly, a positive that can open up any defence. But he needs a Massa alongside him to achieve something akin to the 4-0 drubbing of Congo Brazzaville last year where the two started in a three-man attack and raided the visitors in what was a classic attacking game.
Against Senegal, Cranes provided compelling evidence of a domineering side in that even after losing Godfrey Walusimbi to a straight red card in the 36th minute for a bad foul on Gassama Lamine, they continued to dominate play through midfielders Tony Mawejje and Geoffrey Kizito.
The Cranes, who had started with Brian Majwega and Hamis Kiiza in the wide areas produced a performance high on defensive quality, commitment and organisation but were light-weight upfront, where Okwi started as a lone striker.
The Cranes were fast on the second balls, closed the spaces well and with an extra man in midfield (Hassan Wasswa) managed to haul themselves out from troublesome positions.
And yet despite that, and the headed effort off a Tony Mawejje free-kick, Okwi was still left frustrated and isolated from his withdrawn support forward Kiiza, who happened to have the team’s two best chances on goal in the second half.
Kiiza failed to connect Kizito’s well-weighted pass before miscuing a shot minutes later with goalkeeper Coundoul Bouna at his mercy.
Cranes’ lack of firepower upfront allowed the hapless Senegalese grow in confidence. They threatened Cranes goal when Henry Saivet rattled the upright and Sadio Mane had a shot at goal saved by Robert Odongkara.
Mane however scored on his second attempt after being put through by Moussa Sow and with that ended Uganda’s interests in the qualifiers.