In the friendly matches before CHAN 2016, Uganda faced Gabon and Cameroon, and both matches ended in draws. With Uganda Cranes set to play their first Group D match against Mali on Tuesday, it still remains a mystery how the team will play and what sort of approach they will adapt.
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During the two friendly matches that Uganda have drawn, coach Micho Sredojevic was experimenting with his squad, but was also careful not to reveal too much of his game plan ahead of competitive matches against Mali, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The team played rigidly, players didn’t commit too much in their tackles and it seemed like everyone was wary of not getting injured ahead of a tournament of such importance.
Now that the warm-up games have ended, both the coach and the players must commit fully to the task at hand and try to earn a spot in the quarter-final. However, that is easier said than done. The off-field problems which have long been a thorn in their sides have reappeared yet again, with the Ugandan Football federation failing to pay the bonuses which were promised to the players after they achieved qualification.
It’s unfortunate that these kinds of things rear their ugly heads ahead of tournaments, but Ugandans have got used to them and they’ll have to perform regardless of the outcome. In line with this is Ismail Watenga’s claim that the atmosphere among Ugandan players is brilliant and that they are like brothers in their training camp.
In terms of the playing style, Uganda is likely to adopt a more defensive approach during the tournament and wait for their chances on the counter. All of Micho’s previous teams didn’t play an open and attacking style of football, and often relied on quick wingers attacking on the counter to maximize their chances of success in games. This should remain true for this Ugandan side as well, and matches are probably going to be decided by whichever team makes the first mistake.
However, unlike in the past when Sredojevic worked with pacy wingers like Phillip Ssozi and Joseph Kabagambe, in his current Uganda squad he has Martin Kizza and Erisa Ssekisambu who possess nowhere near the talent as the previous pair.
Another problem for Micho is that Uganda’s midfield has proven to be largely flat and devoid of creative ideas. His preference of using a defender in the anchor man position in midfield didn’t help as well.
In the two friendly games Uganda played, it was obvious that the players were holding the ball longer than they should have and passes didn’t always find their intended targets. This will have to change in games against Zambia and Zimbabwe especially, since it’s highly unlikely that Ugandan players will be afforded more space to operate in games of such importance.
Attack has also been a problem for Sredojevic in the two friendly games, with Robert Ssentongo, Caesar Okhuti not impressing against Gabon. They failed to get in the right positions and were often one or two steps behind from where they should have been. With chances likely to be scarce in the tournament, this will have to be mended and Ugandan forwards will have to be in the right positions at the right time.
All in all, if Uganda are to progress to the quarter-finals in their third African Nations Championship appearance they will have to rely on their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. They’ll have to stay strong at the back and take the few chances that they’ll be afforded.
Should they win against Mali, it’s likely that even a draw from one of the next two games may suffice. Ugandan players are capable of doing that and if they keep the good atmosphere in their camp they are even capable of achieving more. For now though, quarter-finals will do.