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Cranes bank on Namboole

For nearly five years, Uganda Cranes have had to play international matches home away from home.

The stadium was banned in October 2019 from hosting matches by Caf, the continental soccer governing body. Since then, there have been renovation works to make the facility up to Caf and Fifa standards.

In that period, St Mary’s Kitende, Nyayo and stadiums in Egypt and Cameroon have served as Uganda’s home grounds in international qualifiers. That episode brought shame upon the country, and it is not surprising that the team fared poorly in those very fixtures.

The return to Namboole will be welcomed by Coach Paul Put and the players who can finally enjoy home advantage and support in the true sense of the word. It helps Uganda’s cause that the stadium’s new-look feel gives fans added impetus to have reason to make the journey to the 40,000-seater.

The old Namboole stadium, with a poor playing surface and no seats, was an intimidating ground for visiting teams. While Cranes somehow fashioned a way to play on that uneven turf, teams such as Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt and Zambia were all tamed in Bweyogerere.

However, the new turf is of international standard and some purists are of the view that the surface will go some way in diminishing Uganda’s home advantage. Whatever the case, the reality of the matter is that in this 21st century, football should be played on the best turf that allows for easy-on-the-eye football.

And Put, who is still getting to grips with his squad after just two competitive qualifiers – a defeat to Guinea and a victory over Somalia in the 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifiers, will be keen to see how far his input in the squad has transformed Uganda Cranes in the post-Micho era.  
The Cranes under Micho were always difficult to beat. But they never played aesthetic football. Football fans have longed for a Ugandan team that can control games, fashion chances and cause problems in the final third. It is apparent that there is fatigue of Cranes securing wins that almost pass for accidental.

It is eight months since Cranes beat Somalia 1-0 thanks to Rogers Mato’s lone strike at Stade Du Municipal in Berkane, Morocco. Mato is yet again expected to start against Botswana, whose last trip to Kampala ended in a 0-2 defeat with Geoffrey Massa and Brian Umony on the scoresheet.

The Cranes are notorious for being goal-shy and if Put has done his homework well, he will have noticed what a chronic problem it has been for Uganda’s national team over the last decade.

With Uganda as hosts, Cranes will have to seize the initiative. Bobosi Byaruhanga, Travis Mutyaba and Allan Okello are all expected to figure in Friday’s showdown in a match Uganda must win to retain any hopes of upsetting odds to qualify for the 2026 Fifa World Cup in Mexico, Canada and USA at the expense of Monday’s Namboole opponents, Algeria, who are the table leaders and the runaway favourites.

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