10 January 2013

Uganda: The Cranes Before Chan

As is the case for many of the teams in the East and Central African region, The Cranes will have to compete for a slot at the 2014 African Nations Championship (Chan), a Caf tournament that pits Africa's home-based players against each other in a 16-nation tournament.

At the last edition, held in Sudan in February 2011, The Cranes participated but lost all three of their group games. Now, with the qualifiers already underway and The Cranes slated to take on Tanzania in June, John Vianney Nsimbe assesses the team's status.

Just this week, KCC football club signed Cranes midfielder Hassan Wasswa on a reported two-year deal. Previously, without a club after being released by Turkish side, Kayseri Erciyesspor FC, the arrival of Wasswa won't just boost KCC but to Cranes coach, Bobby Williamson, he is an automatic inclusion once the Chan qualifiers start.

Much as the Chan isn't the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), which is much coveted by the football fraternity here, the Chan provides an opportunity for Williamson to test new players. It's a tournament that would give Ugandan players international exposure to football scouts and experience, which they don't given the few international friendly matches they play.

Wasswa's return aside, there are a host of issues that will test The Cranes. After scoring three times in Cranes recent Cecafa triumph, striker Brian Umony was expected to lead Cranes line in the Chan. But now that he has left KCC for Tanzania's Azam, Cranes only reliable forward is Robert Ssentongo of URA FC. This is bad news, given that Cranes' most troubling area is the striking line. This will mean that Williamson will have to dig deep into the under-20s and see what Erisa Sekisambu, George Abege and Williams Wadri can offer at senior level.

Or perhaps he could go for Tony Odur. But it will be interesting to see if the KCC striker can return to The Cranes fold. He helped Cranes qualify for the 2011 Chan with three goals in four games. But at the event itself, he exhibited a sense of indiscipline and he was dropped. Without experience in the likes of Odur, it will be tough for Cranes to go past Tanzania. Tanzania unlike Uganda, have a better organised and competitive league. Of recent, they have even attracted some of Uganda's best players.

Umony and Abel Dhaira, the recent arrivals in Tanzania, joined strikers Emmanuel Okwi and Hamis Kiiza. Others like left-back Godfrey Walusimbi have headed to DR Congo. In essence, apart from goalkeeper Hamza Muwonge and Simeon Masaba who have maintained a semblance of good form, other players like winger Simon Serunkuma, Saddam Juma, Owen Kasule, Mike Serumagga, Manco Kaweesa, Noah Semakula and Edward Ssali, who helped Cranes qualify for the 2011 Chan have gone for greener pastures.

That includes winger Sula Matovu and defender Ivan Bukenya, the former Proline FC players plying their trade in Iraq now. Yet most of Tanzania's team is home-based. The likes of Raphael Bocco, Mrisho Ngasa and Shomari Kapombe will be a handful for what's largely expected to be a new Cranes team.

That said, Jackson Mayanja, Cranes assistant coach, is not worried:

"I don't think we should worry or sulk because some of our players have sought greener pastures.

"That's what we want. But above all, this is a chance for other players to climb up the ladder and prove that they're good enough to play for The Cranes by doing well in the Chan qualifiers. And I think we've many good players to fill the boots of those that have left."

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