BY FRED KAWEESI
Over the years, Uganda-Ghana fixtures have been closely contested affairs.
In fact, in the eight meetings the two sides have faced off since their meeting in the 1978 Nations Cup final when Ghana edged Uganda 2-0, the Black Stars have only registered four two-goal wins over the Cranes.
In the other three, Uganda has beaten Ghana once and pulled off two draws –a pattern that would ideally point to another cracking fixture in Kumasi this weekend. Unfortunately, events in Cranes’ build-up to their first Group E fixture suggest otherwise.
Apart from staging a mediocre performance in their 2-0 loss to Niger in Niamey on Tuesday, the team’s preparations have been dampened by mysterious circumstances under which the team’s main striker Geoffrey Massa was dropped for this particular fixture.
“Why would anyone stop me from travelling to Ghana?” I had prepared for this game and thought I would help the team but that isn’t possible now,” Massa stated early this week.
Massa, who turns out for South African side Amatuks, had scored in Cranes’ last two qualifying matches against Madagascar and Mauritania –games that decided Uganda’s progress to the group stages. It’s the second time that the 28-year-old has been overlooked for a crucial game.
In September 2013, Massa was dropped for the crucial 2014 World Cup qualifier against Senegal in Marrakesh –a fixture Cranes lost 1-0. Uganda also self-destructed in October, 2011.
Back then, Cranes star David Obua was dismissed from camp, just 24 hours to a vital fi xture against Kenya that could have earned a place to the finals after several years of waiting.
In the absence of Massa, Cranes will look to Robert Ssentongo, Yunus Ssentamu, Hamis Kizza and Brian Umony for ammunition. On the evidence of their display against Niger, Cranes will have to show more bite, application, and spirit if they are to survive the intensity of the game in Kumasi.
Over the years, Cranes have always won their first fixtures. Cranes have always won their home fixtures. But for the first time in over a decade, their Nations Cup campaign starts away from home, at a place of no faint hearts.
Ghana too experienced
The Black Stars will come to this fixture with plenty of experience gathered over the years from both Nations Cup and World Cup tournaments.
Uganda Cranes winger Moses Oloya
In qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, Ghana topped their qualifying group, which included 2012 African Cup of Nations champions Zambia, with five wins out of six games.
They eventually booked their flight to Brazil by dismantling much-fancied Egypt 7-3 on aggregate, including a 6-1 home victory.
If Egypt’s performance against Ghana in Kumasi last year proved one thing, it was that any side that encounters the current Black Stars team needs to motor in top gear and not in bits. Engaging in second or third gear is not an option.
Cranes will need to keep their tactical shape, throw bodies upfront, pressurize Ghana and force them into errors. This season, goalkeeper Denis Onyango has yet to start for his South Africa club Mamelodi Sundowns but will be considered ahead of Robert Odongkara due to his experience.
The gangly custodian will be shielded by a back-four that includes Denis Iguma (right), Godfrey Walusimbi (left) and central pairing of Andrew Mwesigwa and Isaac Isinde.
Micho Sredojevic will most likely opt for a conservative approach in midfield with two defensive midfielders in Khalid Aucho and Geoffrey Kizito.
Tony Mawejje has assumed a more attacking role in recent Cranes matches. He will however find himself caught in providing more defensive cover than supporting the likes of Luwagga Kizito, Moses Oloya and Brian Umony in the offensive side of the pitch.
It must be said, that although Ghana are good going forward, they do struggle at the back, with a lack of quality in goal and defence. In defence, the successors to John Mensah and Isaac Vorsah come with little of the quality the centre back paring provided in previous qualifiers.
This is where Massa would have weaved his magic, troubled the makeshift Ghanaian defense with pace and power over 90 minutes. As it is, Ghana will certainly dictate proceedings with Kwadwo Asamoah at the forefront of their attacking play. Asamoah has immensely improved since his move to Italian club Juventus.
He was in great form last season as Juve pushed for a third successive Serie A title.
Although Asamoah has often dropped back to play at left back for Juventus, he plays in a more central role for Ghana, linking the midfield and attack, and is the team’s orchestra alongside Andrew Ayew, Jordan Ayew and Gyan Asamoah — Ghana’s chief source of goals.
But equally dangerous is Majeed Waris, a player whose stock has risen quicker than anyone on the Ghanaian team in the last six months.
Waris has the ability to make diagonal runs off the shoulders of defenders than most players would make, giving him more space to run onto the ball. It will be interesting to see how Cranes central defenders shackle the youngster.
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