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World Cup qualifiers: Cranes remain work in progress

Cranes players training ahead of their game with Guinea

Cranes players training ahead of their game with Guinea

In a group featuring Algeria, it is safe to say that Uganda’s World Cup hopes for 2026 are at best slim.

The star-studded North Africans narrowly missed out on the 2022 edition, after conceding a last-minute goal at home to Cameroon, and will leave no stone unturned in their bid to reach the US-Mexico-Canada-staged competition. Uganda Cranes, on their part, are a team whose transition has taken longer than anyone could have imagined.

In fact, you can argue that Cranes have been in a transition from the time they exited the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations at the second-round stage. Players have retired or been retired silently, coaches have come and gone but the team is not quite where it is supposed to be. The biggest task for new coach Paul Put is to build the kind of squad that reached the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

Put’s first game in charge was a 1-2 defeat to Guinea in Morocco before the team followed that up with a slim 1-0 victory over 10-man Somalia at Berkane Municipal stadium on November 21.

In both matches, Cranes goals were scored by strikers Fahad Bayo and Rogers Mato, which by all accounts is a welcome development, considering how Ugandan strikers have been goal shy in competitive international matches.

The selections of Travis Mutyaba, Allan Oyirwoth, Kenneth Ssemakula, Mato and Bobosi Byaruhanga are a clear indication that Put and his assistant Sam Ssimbwa are intent on integrating a youthful base in the team.

Uganda’s next two matches will both be played in June next year against Botswana and Algeria. By then, Mandela National stadium at Namboole will be ready and the Cranes will finally get the chance to play in front of their home fans for the first time in nearly three years.

Playing home matches away from Uganda has greatly impeded Cranes’ chances and the return to Namboole will certainly be appreciated by Put, who will have known how his predecessor Micho bemoaned the idea of hosting teams in countries like Egypt and Cameroon.

There is little to read in the results from matches against Guinea and Somalia, and Put will have a sustained period to watch matches in the Uganda Premier League while at the same time monitoring the progress of the various players abroad and overseas.

The 2026 World Cup qualifiers may have come too early for Put, and it is likely that his target to lay down the marker will be during the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

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