Uganda/Cameroon: Five Issues to Grapple With As U-17s Court Cameroon

The Uganda U-17 Girls could officially kick off their preparations for the first leg of their second round Fifa World Cup qualifier, with Cameroon due October 31 at Star Times Stadium - Lugogo, today. The side that is residing at Cranes Paradise Hotel - Kisaasi, will train in Lugogo as they try to make up for lost time.

Match fitness

Asked what the most pressing five issues are for his team that is regrouping after six months of inaction, coach Ayub Khalifan zeroed down to "just fitness."

His defensive lynchpin Stella Musibika and midfield anchor Kevin Nakacwa missed the last games - the 6-2 aggregate drubbing of Tanzania in the first round - through injuries that had initially threatened their continuation in this team but have had six months to recuperate thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

All players, however, have to prove their match sharpness even when practice games are off the charts.

Central defence

Should Musibika prove her fitness, Khalifan could be faced with a selection dilemma.

He loves her confidence and passing range when they build from the back.

Playing alongside the hardworking and feisty Bira Naddunga, the partnership won the Cosafa and Cecafa U-17 Championships last year and ousted Ethiopia in the penultimate round of these qualifiers.

But in Musibika's absence, Naddunga forged a way with Grace Aluka, who was belatedly called to this team, so much so that Uganda kept a clean-sheet in the second leg (5-0) of their first round win over Tanzania.

Given the physicality of the Cameroonians and a need to keep in the encounter after the first leg, a back three could as well be on the cards as it could give cover for right-back Samalie Nakacwa, who struggles to complete matches in hot weather.

Midfield

Kevin Nakacwa's absence in the 2-1 away loss to Tanzania in the first leg of the last round was felt.

Her replacement Catherine Nagadya, usually a winger, ran out of steam after doing more off the ball than usual.

At home, Nagadya played much better when partnered with Shamira Nalugya - also a late call up in this team after the suspension of the diminutive but combative Shakira Nyinagahirwa.

Nalugya should retain her position after she played Tanzania off the park.

Combining her with Nyinagahirwa, should make for tasty football especially when Uganda is in possession.

And if Kevin is fit, Khalifan could use her physical presence so he can make space for an attacking threesome of captain Juliet Nalukenge, Margaret Kunihira and Fauzia Najjemba.

Supporting cast

It will take more than just a good starting XI to oust Cameroon. Khalifan will need game changers from the bench.

One of Aluka or Musibika could provide cover for a thin defence, in which Gloria Namugerwa and Patrica Akiror are yet to make a case for themselves. Khalifan has rode his luck with an equally thin midfield (only Moreen Nangonzi offers options from the bench) over the last 14 games but he will welcome the versatility of Nagadya, who can also join the forwards alongside Hadijah Nandago.

The coach, however, needs to unlock a gem or two from his new midfield additions; Winnifred Kwatulira, Devine Mirembe Ruth Nyakato, Sumaya Kyomuhendo and Sumaya Tibazalika in the next few weeks.

Expectation

There is a lot of goodwill for the U-17s from their countrymen and women but it has come with expectation too. The onus is on the coaching staff to transform these emotions into a place at next year's World Cup in India.

Fifa U-17 Women WC

February 17 - March 7 in India

SECOND ROUND QUALIFIERS

First Leg - October 31

Uganda vs. Cameroon

Second Leg - November 20

Cameroon vs. Uganda

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