11 November 2012

Uganda/Kenya: Cecafa Reprieve for Fringe Players

The upcoming 2012 Cecafa Tusker Challenge Cup in Kampala offers a golden opportunity budding stars to prove their mettle but most importantly, it could be the last chance for previously overlooked to excel, writes John Vianney Nsimbe.

As Bobby Williamson mulled over whether to summon Gor Mahia striker Daniel Serunkuma to his Cranes squad for the Cecafa beginning here on November 24, the diminutive striker bagged a hat-trick, as his team dispensed of Muhoroni 4-0. This brought his tally of goals in the Kenya Premier League to 17. Nevertheless, like a number of others, Serunkuma will have to seize the moment like it's a second chance to life.

Defender Edward Ssali knows that more than anyone. Part of The Cranes squad that won the 2008 Cecafa championship in which he was instrumental, his appearances have since been sporadic. In that period, younger defenders like Isaac Isinde, Owino, Ivan Bukenya, Henry Kalungi and Dennis Guma have made demoted Ssali down the the pecking order despite his intelligence and tenacity.

Ssali's last real outing for The Cranes was at the Nile Basin football tournament in Egypt. That said, the gigantic Bukenya has been touted as the true heir to the retired Ibrahim Sekagya but the Iraq-based defender hasn't played for Cranes since the Chan in February 2011. He may not be another Sekagya but with size, he can be the solution to taming big continental forwards particularly in the air.

Owino too used to be impressive until a nagging knee injury kept him out from December 2010 up until this year. Notably, Saddam Juma's football technique suggested that Uganda had found a gem who scores goals from midfield and creates them too. Having scored on his debut in March 2010 in a 3-2 away win in Tanzania, Juma looked the part. But he disappointed at the Cecafa last year and was out of the team.

The same goes for Manco Kaweesa, Juma's teammate at Victoria University FC. Since his maiden Cranes call-up in 2010, Kaweesa - a solid but scoring defensive midfielder - has failed to replicate his club form in national team colours. In the same light, URA striker Robert Ssentongo hasn't scored for The Cranes since his solitary strike against Kenya at the 2009Cecafa quarterfinals.

That has indeed been a dry spell that Ssentongo must overcome to justify his regular call-ups since 2004 debut. With so many strikers at Williamson's exposure, Ssentongo has his work cut out. Of course striker Brian Umony will also have to put his scoring boots on because his last Cranes goal was in January 2009.

Along with Steven Bengo, the duo lit up the 2008 Cecafa with fantastic play and goals. A onetime golden boy of Ugandan football, Bengo has become irrelevant and if he takes his current form into the Cecafa, expect jeers from the home fans.

And with the 2014 World Cup qualifiers looming in March 2013, there won't be a better occasion for these players to lay claim in the senior Cranes squad.

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