2019 is a year of World Cups. The FIFA Women’s World Cup concluded on Sunday with pre-tournament favourites, the United States of America reigning supreme over the Netherlands though Alex Morgan did not sip on her tea.
For Cricket fans, the script has not changed. The ‘owners’ of the game India, Australia, England and New Zealand are in the semifinals. An India versus Australia final is the obvious bet but the this year’s tournament is played on English grounds, so you can’t write off England, who were seemingly helped by India into the last four, yet.
August is in sight for Basketball enthusiasts and as a reminder, Kyrie Irving, the best-ever handler of the ball on the planet is very much active. We can only wait on Gregg Popovic to see if he will call on his not so kind of player.
My Rugby people… Should it be Beauden Barrett or Richie Mo’unga to don that number 10 jersey for the All Blacks? Well, Mo’unga made his case during Crusaders run to their 10th Super Rugby title. We will surely return to this All Blacks flyhalf debate, after all, we have August and the first two weeks of September to do that. In fact, it’s time enough to even factor in uncapped Josh Ioane.
For now, I want to focus on another global event that starts on Friday, July 12, the Netball World Cup at which, unlike the other four, Uganda will be competing.
In this article, I will try to evaluate Uganda’s chances at the tournament with the squad, preparations, and opponents in mind.
Four years ago, She Cranes made their debut at the indoor World Cup in Sydney, Australia but was their second overall appearance having competed at the 1979 event in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
The She Cranes announced their return to the global stage with an eighth-place finish and have been a force in the sport since. Uganda recently attained their highest-ever International Netball Federation ranking, leapfrogging Malawi to 6th place as of July 1st.
On Saturday, January 12, William Mwanja, the technical head at Uganda Netball Federation convened a meeting of club coaches at Lugogo during which a pool of thirty-seven (37) locally based players were listed for National team training.
Three months later, the list was trimmed down to 20 players and it was only then that the squad started to take shape.
With the two pros, Peace Proscovia and Mary Nuba Cholhok, already assured of their places on the team, only ten spots were up for grabs for the locally based legion.
Throughout the training regime, it was clear head coach Vincent Kiwanuka already had his preferences. Defenders Stella Nanfuka, Sylvia Nanyonga, and Lillian Ajio, mid-court stars Ruth Meeme and Betty Kiiza as well as goal attack Rachael Nanyonga equally had their places on the team stamped.
Jesca Achan a natural mid-court player, defenders Joan Nampungu and Muhayimina Namuwaya as well as Stella Oyella completed the puzzle for the coaches.
While the preliminary squad was announced in January, it was not until April that meaningful training started after the squad had been trimmed to less than twenty players.
For Vincent Kiwanuka, the head coach of the team, all he wanted was competition for places over an extended period of time, having had a taste of their top group opponents in England who they face on Friday.
Last year’s Vitality International Series against England made it abundantly clear that the She Cranes were short on pace and endurance. From that point, the work was cut out for the technical staff, and it was no surprise that during the preps there was a lot of focus on how quick Ruth Meeme and Betty Kizza get the ball to the shooters.
The friendly against Zimbabwe may not have been the most suiting but atleast it gave the team their real competitive game of the year.
Going by INF Rankings, Uganda is only behind England in Group D that also has Scotland (Ranked 7th) and Samoa (Ranked 14th).
In the preliminary stage one (Group D), Uganda needs to finish among the top 3 in the group to have a chance of playing for the semifinals.
Given the experience of the She Cranes, getting out of Group D into Group G where they will join the top 3 of Group C is not a tough ask.
South Africa and Jamaica are the obvious opponents that the She Cranes will face in the preliminary stage two and one of Fiji or Trinidad and Tobago.
The She Cranes has to finish in the top two spots in Group G to make the semifinals and with the Preliminary stage one carrying into stage two, Uganda’s results against England and Scotland will matter a lot if they are to advance to the final four.
Without doubt, the major test for She Cranes in the two preliminary stages will be against top netball sides England, Jamaica, South Africa and probably Scotland. If Uganda secures atleast three wins from the games, they could break into the semifinals.
Winning their opener against England on Friday night is what could give Uganda the push.
But to be fair, finishing top two in a group that has England, Jamaica and South Africa will be difficult and the She Cranes are likely going to compete for placements 5-8.