By Fred Kaweesi
NOW that the dust has fast-settled after Cranes’ exit from the Africa Nations Championship (CHAN), it’s certainly the right time to review the team’s performance at the showpiece.
It’s the perfect time to also look at what the future holds for the national team ahead of the 2015 Africa Nations Cup qualifiers this year.
I must point that when Cranes travelled to South Africa, weeks after losing their CECAFA Challenge Cup in Kenya, few believed in them.
Although team coach Micho Sredojevic sounded convinced of a place in the knockout stages, many thought otherwise.
Indeed, as prophesised by some, Cranes could not progress out of Group B.
Despite stunning 2013 Africa Nations Cup finalists Burkina Faso in a 2-1 win, Cranes could only draw goalless against Zimbabwe before collapsing to a 3-1 defeat to Morocco in their final game.
But then realistically, Cranes have every reason to look back to this championship with pride.
In 2011, they were bundled out of Africa’s second most prestigious competition in humiliating fashion.
The Cranes not only lost all three of their group matches, where they managed to score once in the entire championship hosted in Sudan, but their performances were abject too.
In South Africa, the Cranes were the opposite.
In the games against Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe and Morocco, Micho’s team produced performances high on defensive quality, commitment and organisation.
The Cranes have grown in leaps and bounds. They have significantly reduced the gulf between them and top African sides.
The Cranes are well capable of qualifying for the Africa Cup next year because in Micho, Uganda not only have an astute tactician, they also have a figure that has ably found the right pieces that have been so absent in the past.
Micho now needs to design a well-laid out strategy that will enable the national team negotiate six gruelling 2015 Nations Cup qualifiers in the space of just three months this year.
According to the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the qualifiers for the next tournament will be played between September and November in 2014 because of the congested football calendar throughout the year. And that of course includes the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
CAF had to identify a period after the World Cup in which to squeeze the 144 qualifying fixtures, involving a total of 48 teams in 12 groups of four.
The schedule has been designed to fit in with FIFA’s international match calendar, where clubs will feel obliged to release players on the dates set aside by the world governing body.
All weekend games will be followed by midweek fixtures on the dates of 1-9 September, 6-14 October and 10-18 November.
With this in mind, you need a group of experienced and youthful players that will be mentally and physically strong to traverse various parts of the continent in such a short period of time.
Fortunately, Micho has succeeded at that.
The CHAN tournament has brought to light exciting prospects that should also create competition within the squad for particular positions.
In goal, although I still have my doubts on Benjamin Ochan, his impressive outing in South Africa, means a fourth reliable custodian in the ranks behind Denis Onyango, Robert Odongkara and Abbey Dhaira.
In defence, Savio Kabugo and Richard Kassaga should be given serious consideration alongside the likes of Andrew Mwesigwa, Isaac Isinde and Henry Kalungi.
Nicholas Wadada has grown in stature at right back while Godfrey Walusimbi will least afford breaks since Isaac Muleme has proved to be a decent deputy.
In the midfield area, Hassan Wasswa and Tony Mawejje will still command their positions but with limited room for complacency looking at the progress made by Ivan Ntege, Denis Iguma and CECAFA revelation Khalid Aucho.
In attack, Geoffrey Massa and Emmanuel Okwi have been the obvious candidates but such has been the tremendous progress of Yunus Sentamu that Micho will be hardpressed to ignore the 19-year-old Vipers striker.