On Thursday night, Uganda Cranes flew out to Mauritania to face the home side in a return leg match of the pre-group 2015 Africa Nations Cup qualifiers minus four of its first team members.
Goalie Denis Onyango, midfielder Moses Oloya and striker Geoffrey Massa couldn’t link up with the national team due to club engagements and with the match falling on a non FIFA sanctioned date, its only CAF to blame.
The trio joins Yanga SC forward Emmanuel Okwi who had earlier been left out after a persistent groin injury.
Cranes take a 2-0 lead to Mauritania and thus can at worst afford to lose 1-0 but still progress to group E which already has Ghana, Togo and Guinea.
Nevertheless, Micho and company know what is at stake and must not sit on their laurels as thing may turn against The Cranes.
There is no doubt a Cranes’ side without Oloya, Okwi, Massa and Onyango is a bit lighter than one with them but in my opinion, the latter two will be missed the most.
Cranes head coach Mulitin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic is well aware of the implication of the absence of the quartet but says the players available will do the job something I don’t dispute.
“We cannot cry for spilt milk. We will miss them but I am confident the players available on the team will play well and will get the desired result,” said Micho.
St. George goalie Robert Odongkara has the capacity to fill the void left by Onyango as witnessed in the back to back 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Angola and Liberia in June last year but the Mamelodi Sundowns goalie brings experience and leadership at the back.
Onyango’s statistics in the previous ten appearances in the AFCON qualifiers speaks volumes as he has managed seven clean sheets.
The ex-SC Villa custodian did concede (0-2 Vs Angola), (0-1 Vs Zambia) and had conceded once against Congo Brazzaville before suffering an injury that led to his withdraw for Abbey Dhaira who later let in two goals.
As for Massa, it’s difficult to find an able deputy within the ranks of the squad at the moment. True, the Pretoria University centre forward receives a lot of stick for being an inconsistent goal scorer but none doubts his industry that keeps even the best of defences on tenterhooks.
Besides, no member of the current Cranes team has scored more AFCON qualifiers goals than the ex-Police FC striker.
Massa has netted nine (9) goals since his debut appearance in the AFCON campaigns against Lesotho in 2006 at Namboole and only Obua (11) has scored more in Uganda’s history according to available statistics.
Four of those goals have come in the previous five appearances an indication of improvement in conversion.
Daily Monitor Soccer writer Andrew Mwanguhya says the Cranes will have to dig deeper to if they are to pick victory away from home; their only third in over 15 years.
“The Cranes will have to dig deeper to pull off anything close to victory,” said Mwanguhya who also believes Okwi, Massa, Onyango and Oloya will be missed though in Odongkara and Mawejje, he says there are close to perfect replacements in goal and midfield.
“No doubt a Cranes’ side with Onyango, Okwi, Massa and Oloya is better than that without,” he stressed.
“Massa’s imposing self especially away will be missed just as Onyango’s leadership at the back and Oloya’s industry through the middle. Odongkara will have to offer the kind of authority Onyango commands while returning Mawejje (missed the 2-0 home victory) should ably replace Oloya.”
While he feels the two will be ably replaced, its Massa who he fails to find a close to able replacement but tips Gor Mahia forward Daniel Sserunkuma; a late inclusion into the team to find that odd goal in Nouakchott.
“It’s Massa’s runs and energy that will be hard to replicate but in Sserunkuma, a goal is possible,” Mwanguhya concludes.
It should be noted that both Onyango and Massa were instrumental in Uganda’s previous away win; the 1-0 against Guinea Bissau.
In that game, Massa set up David Obua for the winner while Onyango saved a penalty at the other hand.
The duo were also absent as The Cranes lost 1-2 in the first leg against Madagascar but Massa’s goal and Onyango’s clean sheet in the reverse fixture ensured progress for the team.
SUMMARY OF MASSA’s AFCON QUALIFIERS GOALS:
2 Vs Lesotho (2008 AFCON qualifiers) 2 September, 2006: Uganda 3-0 Lesotho
2 Vs Benin (2010 WC and AFCON qualifiers): Uganda 2-1 Benin
1 Vs Guinea Bissau (2012 Afcon qualifiers) June 11 2011: Uganda 2-0 Guinea Bissau
1 Vs Congo (2013 Afcon qualifiers) 16 June 2012: Uganda 4-0 Congo
1 Vs Zambia (2013 Afcon qualifiers) 13 October 2012: Uganda 1-0 Zambia
1 Vs Madagascar (2015 Afcon qualifiers) 31 May 2014: Uganda 1-0 Madagascar
1 Vs Mauritania (2015 Afcon qualifiers) 19 July 2014: Uganda 1-0 Mauritania
NOTE: All Massa’s goals have come at home.