Malawi/Uganda: Cranes V Malawi - the Case for Defence

26 November 2019

Football's most recycled cliché of 'attack wins games, defences win championships' couldn't have been more suitable when evaluating Uganda's good performances over the last two-and-a-half Africa Cup of Nations Qualification campaigns.

In this case, however, substitute 'championships' for 'qualification'. With Cranes beating Malawi 2-0 at the weekend to assume Group B leadership, Uganda will all but secure a third straight Afcon qualification if Johnathan McKinstry's side overcome northern neighbours South Sudan in the double header to be played next year.

Given how Cranes has become defensively sound in continental football in recent years, only a brave man would bet against Uganda's qualification for Cameroon 2012. The era when Uganda Cranes shipped in five goals appears to be long gone with the team now competing favourably against Africa's best sides.

While creating chances and finishing them remains a challenge, frustrating opponents has turned into an artform for Uganda. From coaches Micho Sredojevic to Sebastien Desabre and now McKinstry, Cranes have built a reputation of being frugal.

In 14 Arica Cup of Nations qualifiers dating back to the campaign to reach Gabon 2017, Uganda have kept an impressive eleven clean sheets. The only times Uganda's rearguard has been breached in that period was in a 0-3 reverse to Tanzania, a game played when Cranes had already wrapped up qualification to Egypt 2019 and table leadership, and in a 2-1 away win in Botswana in a 2017 Afcon qualifier. Uganda also lost 0-1 to Burkina Faso in the same campaign.

Thanks to a mean defence, Uganda has registered an impressive nine victories in that period, three draws and two losses. The team has also scored 15 goals and let in a miserly five.

The one common factor throughout that decent run has been goalkeeper and skipper Denis Onyango, whose leadership and shot-stopping skills have tormented attackers on the continent time and again.

His defence has been chopped and changed over that period with centrebacks and fullbacks being called and reshuffled but Onyango has coped admirably with whoever has been picked to shield Cranes goal.

Among the defenders who have featured in that run are Denis Iguma, Nico Wadada, the now retired Godfrey Walusimbi, Joseph Ochaya, Bevis Mugabi, Ronald Mukiibi, Hassan Wasswa, Isaac Isinde and Murushid Juuko.

Others are Timothy Awany and Chrizestom Ntambi. In between the two Afcon campaigns was the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers where Uganda let in only two goals in a group that had Egypt, Ghana and Congo Brazzaville.

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