Cranes should be motivated towards winning this fixture too, as the emphasis, going into this game, will be on re-examining their all-round qualities ahead of the championship in Egypt
AFCON Qualifier: Tanzania v Uganda (6 PM)
Considering that Cranes sealed Nations Cup qualification last year with a game to spare, there is this inevitable feeling that the fixture against Tanzania will be more fascinating for the hosts than Uganda.
True. Tanzania needs it more. It’s a historic fixture in Tanzanian football –one that might earn them their first appearance at the Nations Cup finals.
All that Tanzania need is a win against Cranes in front of an expectant 60,000 capacity crowd at their national stadium, and hope that Lesotho falters against Cape Verde in the other fixture.
But Cranes should be motivated towards winning this fixture too, as the emphasis, going into this game, will be on re-examining their all-round qualities ahead of the championship in Egypt.
That is beside the records at stake. Apart from completing the campaign unbeaten, Denis Onyango and his back four should strive to set individual records of finishing the qualifying campaign without conceding a goal.
The expectations marching into the tournament this June will certainly be higher than the previous campaign.
Why? When Uganda qualified for the finals in 2017, not much was expected from the team. Qualifying for the finals in Gabon after 38 years was such a huge milestone. Subsequent results were considered a bonus.
And this explains why Farouk Miya’s goal in the 1-1 draw against Mali in Oyem was celebrated countrywide.
The situation will be a lot different now, with Cranes expected to at least make it out of the group stages. All that the team’s head coach Sebastien Desabre needs is to use games like this to find answers for all the gaps in the current team.
With just two months to go, the game against Tanzania would have been one of few fixtures to try out some of those fringe players that weren’t able to make the first team and offer competitive opportunities to some of the exciting prospects in the Uganda Premier League.
But Desabre’s decision to stick with a host of the team’s regular guards –including the pair that has been inactive without clubs in Hassan Wasswa and Godfrey Walusimbi meant the likes of Dan Sserunkuuma, local Premier league top scorer Juma Balinya (16 goals), season revelations such as Joel Madondo and Bashir Mutanda are –bar any injuries –were unlikely to be involved in this year’s Nations Cup finals.
Which begs the question, are Cranes good enough to make the knockout stages of the tournament? Maybe, maybe not!
Only half of the current squad were part of the side that made that historic appearance in Gabon.
It will thus come down to how the French tactician sets out his team, improves the team’s efficiency from dead-ball situations and attack that has been erratic for years.
Cranes are still short of a player that leads the attack with the sort of authority that Geoffrey Massa had–his modest goals-per-game ratio notwithstanding.
Against Cape Verde, Patrick Kaddu struggled to lead the lines on his own. But then again, he worked so hard to prove that with an attacking partner, he can still deliver. His instinct to ghost past his marker for the all-important goal was a precious quality.
Other than depending entirely on Emmanuel Okwi, Cranes will need competent alternatives or partners to support him.
Kaddu earned his place on the high table but has just played a couple of games since his return from injury.
With the likes of Balinya, Sserunkuuma overlooked, it remains to be seen whether Derrick Nsibambi, Mohammad Shaban and Edrisa Lubega are fit enough to lead Uganda’s hunt for a record unbeaten run in this qualifying campaign.