Uganda Cranes returned to the prestigious Africa cup of Nations (AFCON) for the first time in 39 years.
Uganda’s ticket to Gabon 2017 was confirmed on the 4th September 2016 when the Cranes edged Comoros 1-0 at the Nelson Mandela National Stadium, Namboole in Kampala.
Although Uganda finished level on points with Burkina Faso in Group D of the qualifiers, the West Africans qualified as group leaders and Uganda finished as the best runners up team alongside Togo.
The reigning CAF National Team of the Year enjoyed fond memories at the 31st edition of the AFCON in Gabon.
Many players, coaching staff, media and FUFA administrators admit qualifying after such a long time was a great tiding given the struggles the team has had over the years.
Featuring at AFCON 2017 was itself a tremendous learning experience according to assistant coach Moses Basena.
Head coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic noted the rustiness of the team not qualifying after a long time was shown but there is a lot of room for improvement ahead of the AFCON 2019, CHAN 2018 and FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Kawowo Sports’ David Isabirye closely followed the team’s preparations in Kampala (at IUIU Campus in Kabojja, Paradise Fitness Gym and Bukoto) before the team went for two training camps in Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.
At AFCON 2017, the team was based at Hotel Du Parc, a lavish leafy standard hotel in Port Gentil before transferring to Hotel Benedicta in Bitam Town.
In Port Gentil, Uganda Cranes fell 1-0 to Ghana and Egypt before resurrecting to score a goal and earning a precious point from Mali in Oyem town.
Only three players played every minute of the all the three group stage games – Joseph Ochaya, Hassan Wasswa Mawanda and Geofrey ‘Baba’ Kizito.
Four players did not feature in any match – goalie Salim Omar Magoola, Shafiq Batambuze, Timothy Denis Awany and Yunus Sentamu.
Here is the cumulative time (in minutes) for all the Uganda Cranes players whilst in Gabon.
Joseph Ochaya (270 Minutes): Completed all the three games. Started at left back role against Ghana before he was pushed on the left attack in the two matches against Egypt and Mali.
Hassan Wasswa Mawanda (270): The versatile player featured in all the three games. One of the star players for the Uganda Cranes at AFCON 2017
Geofrey Baba Kizito (270 minutes): Rarely put a foot wrong in all the three matches played. He was the fulcrum for the team with a balance between attack and defence. Arguably wins Uganda Cranes’ best player of the tournament.
Dennis Iguma (269 minutes): Nearly completed all the minutes of the final games but he was replaced by Moses Oloya in the game against Egypt in the 89th minute.
Faruku Miya (261 Minutes): Made history by scoring the only goal for Uganda Cranes at AFCON 2017.
Two 90 minutes appearances against Ghana and Mali, Miya was replaced once – against Egypt with 10 minutes to play.
He was full of life when he got the ball and suddenly drifting to oblivion without possession.
Tonny Mawejje (211 minutes): Mawejje’s experience was key for many of the youngsters on the team. Often times, he lifted up many when they looked dejected.
Looked out of position when he played at the left attack in the opening minutes against Egypt before he was reinstated back in the middle of the pack.
He was full of energy, a bully to the opposition and sparingly used his diminishing calories level to perfection.
He was rested and came off the bench against Mali, taking Moses Oloya’s place after 59 minutes.
Dennis Onyango (180 Minutes): Started against the Ghana and Egypt before injury ruled him out of the third group stage a game
Godfrey Walusimbi (180 minutes): Replaced Ochaya at left back in the matches against Egypt and Mali having sat out the opener with Ghana.
Murushid Jjjuuko (180 minutes): He was elegant, calm and composed as he passed the ball out of defence with timely tackles.
Featured full time against Egypt and Mali having sat in the stands while the Cranes faced Ghana because of accumulated cautions from the qualifiers.
He remains a key pillar for Uganda Cranes in the up-coming campaigns and struggles.
Khalid Aucho (179 Minutes): He was superb against Egypt and Mali, the only two matches he played at AFCON 2017 having missed out the opener against Ghana through suspension.
He was replaced by Michael Azira in the 89th minute in the final game after sustaining a knock.
His combo with Baba Kizito was as though blended in Heaven and blessed on Mars planet.
Another great performer for team Uganda in Gabon.
Geofrey Massa (169 Minutes): He is regarded as the historic captain. Majority have demanded for his graceful retirement but personally, Mawejje is up for service until one more captain.
The nation still requires his leadership abilities and there is hope his strong weapons as a player on the field (shooting and heading the ball) can be used sparingly.
He started and completed the opener against Ghana Black Stars.
During the second game with Egypt, he was withdrawn for Muhammad Shaban in the 65th minute.
The bombshell was announced in the final group game on a flooded Stade D’Oyem when he was dropped ahead of William Luwagga Kizito.
He did manage to come on in the final quarter of the game, but, it was little so late.
One could struggle to recall the number of threatening shots on target for the former Mbale Heroes and Police F.C sharp shooter of old.
He had a mediocre showing by the Massa standards we all know at Nelson Mandela National Stadium, Kampala and the famous Walukuba ground in Jinja.
William Luwagga Kizito (135 minutes): He remains a diamond hidden under the wardrobe for Uganda Cranes.
The Rio Ave play maker is blessed with a rich talent that cuts across explicit ball control, dribbling and great vision, but carries a hot head.
His talent has never been question though many pundits and fans feel he is under-utilized. Luwagga has not yet exploded. He was awful against Ghana losing the easiest of ball possession, failing to protect the ball before paving way for Muhammad Shaban after 59 minutes.
Luwagga remained an un-used substitute against Egypt and surprisingly led the line when playing Mali ahead of team skipper Geofrey Massa who was relegated to the bench.
With a quarter of an hour left on the clock he paved way for Massa and did the un-graceful act of failing to hand shake with Massa nor the coach. He has threatened to throw in the towel at the national team citing irreconcilable differences with coach Micho.
Moses Oloya (104 Minutes): He had a disappointing tournament per say.
He was dreadful against Ghana in the opener after coming on for Michael Azira in the 46th minute.
Often Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL), Oloya was then rested against Egypt and started again when playing Mali in a rain laden fixture.
He has failed to realize when to take on that next opponent, execute the cross and at many times, that indecisiveness cost the dear where it mattered most.
Surprisingly, he started the game against Mali but paved way for an industrious Tonny Mawejje 14 minutes into the second stanza of the game.
Robert Odongkara (90 minutes): He is one of Dennis Onyango’s understudies.
Only featured in the last Group D match against Mali. He was alert for a long spell in the game but showed little effort to tame Yves Bissouma’s superb free-kick for Mali Eagles’ equalizer.
Isaac Isinde (70 minutes): He had an average performance.
The only blemish coming in the opener against 1962 AFCON winners, Ghana Black Stars when he strangled and wrestled down Asamoah Gyan in the forbidden area.
Andre Ayew made no mistake to convert the resultant penalty and condemn Uganda.
Isinde, who traveled to Gabon without a club because he had been deemed as excess baggage at St George was later replaced by the ageless striker Geofrey Sserunkuma with 20 minutes left on the clock.
Muhammad Shaban (56 Minutes): Played two matches as a second half substitute. Against Ghana, he replaced team captain Geofrey Massa and came in for William Luwagga Kizito against Egypt.
The Onduparaka captain remained as an un-used substitute in the final group D match against Mali.
There is a lot of potential envisaged in the player with time probably on his side.
He remains Uganda Cranes player for the future and possibly could have been rushed for the AFCON tournament.
Michael Azira (49 Minutes): The Colorado Rapids blocking midfielder made the starting line up against Ghana.
Because of a congested midfield that had Baba Kizito and Tonny Mawejje, he became the sacrificial lamb and his place was taken in the second half of the Ghana game by Moses Oloya to create wing play.
He never made the starting line up against. Against Egypt, he was directly replaced by Aucho Khalid and remained an un-used substitute in the game.
During the final game in Oyem, against Mali, he replaced an injured Aucho after 90 minutes.
Geofrey Sserunkuma (21 Minutes): He was only introduced in one match, against Ghana Black Stars in the 69th minute for the calamity defender Isaac Isinde. The rest were un-used substitute appearances. Being over 32 years, the KCCA striker was granted the best retirement package.
Nico Wakiro Wadada (9 minutes): Replaced Faruku Miya with less than 10 minutes to play in the second match against Egypt.
The Vipers Sports Club captain was an un-used substitute against Ghana and Mali but still remains an important member for the national team in the times to come.
Salim Omar Magoola (0): He made the team in all the three matches but remained un-used.
He warmed up against Egypt when Onyango was down with hope of a come-on.
Yunus Junior Sentamu (0): Another un-used substitute throughout the tournament. He is a great talent with another ‘hot head’. He was barred from the team’s last training prior to the game against Mali but was pardoned and made the subsistute’s bench.
Shafiq Batambuze (0): Blessed with a soft left footed player, Bachu as he is regarded by many is surely a player for the future. With Ochaya and Walusimbi still in contention, Batambuze can only be an understudy for the duo. Great experience for the Tusker left back.
Timothy Denis Awany (0): Un-used in the opening two games against Ghana and Egypt, Awany fell sick on the match eve prior to the Mali game was watched the game in the stands of Stade D’Oyem.
A great experience and learning process for the young player with such a lot of potential.
The team is now set for the up-coming 2017 AFCON qualifiers as well a continuation to the FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
In between now and then, Uganda Cranes will also take part in the CHAN 2018 qualifiers, International friendly matches and the regional Championship, CECAFA senior Challenge cup.