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Cranes in real Afcon test

Cranes player on arrival in Egypt

Cranes player on arrival in Egypt

The Uganda Cranes are targeting a knock-out berth at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, which kicks off this Friday in Egypt.

To ensure that, Cranes will have to register a positive result against DR Congo, whom they open the tournament against this Saturday, reports JOHN VIANNEY NSIMBE. Cranes coach Sebastien Desabre admitted, that although his team had beaten the Ivory Coast 1-0 in their last build up game last Saturday June 15 in Abu Dhabi, they could not boast as being the perfect side.

Ordinarily, the Frenchman could have been pre-supposed to be sending out a warning to his charges against complacency. However, before Cranes face the Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday June 22, the win over Ivory Coast came as a huge confidence boost. Yet, on the other hand, it also brought fourth key critical points, worthy of note.

Desabre’s charges kept their defensive shape quite well, limiting Ivory Coast’s chances to score. This shows that Cranes will be a difficult side to break down, an attribute they did not show in the 0-3 loss to Tanzania in their final qualification game in March.

Compared to what the case was when the trio of Tadeo Lwanga, Timothy Awany and Kirizestom Ntambi played then in Dar es Salaam, the return of deputy captain Hassan Wasswa and Murushid Jjuuko at the heart of defence and Khalid Aucho as a defensive midfielder, was a shield for goalkeeper Denis Onyango.

Mike Azira, playing alongside Aucho gave the team better purpose in possession. He kept the ball well and balanced its distribution across the field without putting the team under any major threat. Azira also helped dictate play, when the team tried to go forward.

Purposeful attacking was not regular enough. And that in many ways has raised concerns about Cranes’ ability to get goals in open play. Cranes’ goal against Ivory Coast was through a penalty, which came as a result of shirt tagging in the forbidden area.

Although this allowed Cranes to close shop, the concern now is how the team would react if they fell a goal behind. Cranes’ attacking strategy appeared blurred, even though much of that lay on the shoulders of Farouk Miya, scorer of Cranes’ penalty against Ivory Coast.

Miya’s more senior teammate, forward Emmanuel Okwi is another one who will carry a lot of Cranes hopes at the Afcon. But Okwi continues with his blowing hot and cold streak in international football. Okwi is expected to put opposing teams under pressure, so that they cave in, to allow Cranes find goals.

The other options, Kizito Luwaga, Abdul Lumala, Miya, Allan Kyambadde and Allan Kateregga, have the burden to be Cranes’ scoring and creative players. But they did not do much against Ivory Coast and Turkmenistan in that regard.

That should worry the team, as they head into the biggest stage of African football. While one will appreciate the fact, that Desabre has recognized the strengths of his players, and thus sets them up fittingly, and to their ability, he must acknowledge their limitations.

The Ivorians appeared to thrive in one-on-one situations against right fullback Bevis Mugabi. Mugabi was known to be a centre-back, when he first came to the team from Yeovil Town. His tall and gangly appearance points to that anyway. But it is reported that Desabre prefers him to Nicholas Wadada, because of size and outright defending. Wadada is thought to be too offensive.

Yet, Mugabi is not fast enough on retreat. That makes him susceptible to exposing his defence once he is caught out. That said, it is clear Cranes is going to play with a cautious approach, in order to stay in the game long enough for their opportunity. And since at the 2017 Afcon, 51 goals in 24 group games were scored, an average of 2.12, Desabre knows even three draws, can get Cranes into the knock-out stage.

jovi@observer.ug

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