As good as Cranes have been at home over the years, the task at hand is quite formidable
Uganda v Egypt (4pm, SS3)
Cranes are punching above their weight in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Second in Group E with four points behind leaders Egypt, and three points ahead of third-placed Ghana, their fans should be forgiven for visualizing a World Cup dream appearance in Russia next year.
All that Cranes need to do now is gather a minimum of four points in the back-to-back fixtures against Egypt, shock Ghana on October 2 to guarantee qualification.
Is that a realistic target?
Cranes’ fixture against the Pharaohs at Namboole Stadium today will provide a perfect assessment of that, how good this side is and whether interim coaches Moses Basena and Fred Kajoba are worth being considered as permanent staff for the national team’s highest posts.
As good as Cranes have been at home over the years, Basena will certainly concede that the task at hand is quite formidable and this probably explains why he decided to recall a bulk of the team that almost earned a priceless result against the Pharaohs in Gabon in February.
Despite collapsing to a 1-0 defeat, Cranes’ levels of defiance in Port Gentil before Abdallah El Said’s goal on 89 minutes were quite admirable.
There were plenty of positives that Cranes coaching staff drew within the team that could prove decisive in Uganda’s third qualifier of the campaign.
Basena has virtually recalled Cranes’ Nations Cup representatives and the likes of Denis Onyango, Isaac Isinde, Hassan Wasswa, Murushid Juuko, Godfrey Walusimbi, Nicholas Wadada, Joseph Ochaya, Khalid Aucho and Farouk Miya will be tasked with not just containing the Egyptians but breaking through Hector Cuper’s conservative approach.
Cuper’s teams sit deep in a 4-3-2-1 formation and that will not change today.
In fact, Basena will have to follow through with the same formation if Cranes hope to successfully deal with the Pharaohs and their mercurial star Mohamed Salah in particular.
Eyes on Salah
Salah is not just a key player. He is also vital to their style of play.
Operating off the defensive solidity and cover provided by West Brom defender Ahmed Hegazi and Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny, Salah’s acceleration and foot work will certainly cause Cranes problems.
Just as he operates at Liverpool, the Pharaohs will look to release the ball to him early.
Any lapse in concentration will draw a traumatic experience similar to that in Port Gentil, where Salah needed one moment of brilliance to play in El Said with a reverse pass for the all-important goal.
Cranes’ togetherness, the desire to accept the ball in the tightest of situations, with colleagues always making space to help out the other will count more than ever.
If Khalid Aucho and Hassan Wasswa can thwart the visitors’ physical approach, then attacking midfielders Luwagga Kizito, Miya and the experienced pair of Emmanuel Okwi and Geoffrey Sserunkuuma will have the chance to work their magic.
Over the years, former Cranes captain Geoffrey Massa was loaded with responsibility of shouldering Cranes attacking duties in a lone-striker’s role and for the times he struggled in front of goal, the Cranes were fortunate to rely on Farouk Miya for the odd goal to dispatch the opposition.
Miya remains the bookmaker’s favourite to strike the odd blow against the Pharaohs.
If nothing changes, Basena should start him between Emmanuel Okwi and Kizito and just behind veteran striker Geoffrey Sserunkuuma — whose goal earned Cranes that priceless 1-0 win over Cape Verde in a 2019 Africa Nations Cup qualifier in June.
Good luck Cranes!