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Cranes return to Namboole with victory against Botswana

The Cranes team against Botswana

The Cranes team against Botswana

Uganda Cranes celebrated a return to Mandela National Stadium, Namboole after 5 years with a 1-0 victory against Botswana in their third Group G match of the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

Cranes fans who stormed the stadium to cheer the home boys will have a reason to return to the stadium on Monday as the Cranes take on Algeria in the fourth group game. KCCA FC striker Shaban Muhammad scored the much-needed match-day goal to give thousands of fans a reason to cheer.

The Cranes struggled to find their rhythm and create goal-scoring opportunities for much of the game. It wasn't until the 73rd minute that Kitara FC’s Denis Omedi made a decisive run down the right flank, latching onto a through pass from Bobosi Byaruhanga and making a pinpoint minus that found Shaban Muhammad who tapped in the match-winner.

Cranes coach Paul Put made several bold selections, including awarding debuts to SC Villa’s talisman Ronald Ssekiganda, who replaced the injured skipper Khalid Aucho, as well as Elia Capradosi in the centre-back and KCCA FC’s midfielder Joel Sserunjoji who came in as a substitute.

The Belgian tactician opted for an attack-minded lineup, featuring two attacking midfielders: Allan Okello on the right wing and Travis Mutyaba cutting from the centre, with Steven Mukwala and Fahad Bayo leading the forward line.

However, despite the offensive setup, the Cranes were frustrated throughout the first half, struggling to break down Botswana's defense despite the fervent support from the stands. This forced Put to introduce Rogers Mato, who had been ruled out of the game due to late arrival, in place of Allan Okello at halftime.

“Our problem was that we were playing with a lot of players behind the ball and that was our problem in the first half, now we changed this, and we got balance,” Put explained to journalists after the game why his side struggled to create chances at half time.

As the game progressed, Put made further strategic changes, substituting Mukwala and Bwomono with Shaban Muhammad and Bobosi Byaruhanga. This tactical reshuffle saw Villa’s captain Kenneth Ssemakula, who started in partnership with his clubmate Ssekiganda in the middle, moved to right back, allowing Byaruhanga to inject creativity into the midfield.

Minutes later, Put also took off Mutyaba and replaced him with Denis Omedi a decision that perhaps determined the result of the match day.

“We wanted to go forward with some speed because that was missing in the first half, so we took Kenneth to the right back because we wanted someone more creative in the midfield, so we got Bobosi in the middle to get more creativity and more depth and I think we did very well,” Put explained

Uganda now has six points, level with group leaders Algeria and Guinea. Algeria leads the group on goal difference, while Guinea holds second place due to a head-to-head advantage over Uganda.

The Cranes will now host Algeria, hoping to secure maximum points. However, the Algerians, coming off a defeat against Guinea on Thursday, will also look to make amends against Uganda. Commenting on their next fixture, Put said that while he is aware that his team will be hosting one of the continent’s heavyweights, it will not stop them from playing their normal game.

“We know we are facing Algeria, so the quality of Algeria is known because they are one of the best teams in Africa. So our approach in the Monday game will be different, but I‘m not saying that we are going to defend, no, we are going to play, we are going to try and surprise Algeria,” Put said.

The leading team from each of the nine qualifying groups after all group games will earn an automatic qualification for the World Cup. The four strongest runners-up will engage in an African playoff, with the winners progressing to the inter-confederation playoffs scheduled for March 2026.

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