Africa: Afcon - Tips for Uganda Cranes

Goalkeeper Ronwen Williams was the hero as South Africa beat Cape Verde 2-1 on penalties following a goalless 120 minutes to advance to the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals.
3 February 2024

If Uganda Cranes needed a reminder of how high the level of competition in African football has reached, the ongoing 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast has provided it.

A few years ago, the standards on the continent were routinely set by Egypt, Ghana, Cameroon, Algeria and Tunisia. They were the household names lowly football nations like Uganda aspired to emulate. But Afcon 2023 has shown that the rest of Africa has bridged the gap.

Egypt, Ghana, Algeria and Tunisia - all former winners of the Africa Cup of Nations - exited the tournament without a win. Their early departures were a clear sign that there has been a seismic shift in the balance of the game in Africa. Namibia stunned Tunisia and advanced into the knockout stages at the expense of the Carthage Eagles, Algeria were stunned by Mauritania, and both Ghana and Egypt couldn't beat either Cape Verde or Mozambique.

Uganda's transition in Micho Sredojevic's second stint as coach barely took off, something which prompted Fufa to look elsewhere to arrest the situation. Paul Put is now at the reins and it is still early days to judge which way Cranes is going. One thing that is a certainty is that he has a huge task in trying to return the national team to the heights of 2017 and 2019 when Uganda made back-to-back Afcons and even competed in the latter stages before losing to eventual finalists Senegal in the Egypt edition.

Put's Cranes' tenure started with a 2-1 reverse to Guinea on neutral soil in Morocco before he bounced back with a 1-0 victory over Somalia. Uganda is occupying fourth position in Group G in the 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifiers and still has to play matches against the likes of Algeria, Botswana and Mozambique.

Mozambique's impressive showing in Ivory Coast this month, Os Mambas' first round exit notwithstanding, will have given Put everything he needed to know about Victor Matine's team. They are a resilient bunch, industrious and do score goals from everywhere.

Afcon 2023 has shown how fluid and free-scoring national teams are today. Uganda Cranes are many things, but not a scoring team. In fact it can be said that Put's biggest task will be to turn the national team into a side that can score more than a goal a match. Goals win matches and Cranes have been a very goal-shy team for the better part of the last decade.

We shall never know if Cranes would have been in Ivory Coast for the tournament seeing that the team had to play its home matches away from home with Namboole undergoing renovation. The stadium is now 95% done, and Cranes will play their next home qualifier at Namboole.

Uganda Cranes goalkeeper Jamal Salim posed a question on social media about what became of the U-20 team that made it to the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations. Regardless, Put and his technical team have a huge job in trying to return Uganda to the map of African football.

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