Cranes stumble to another painful defeat, but we learned something

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A campaign that looked like it was going to be one for the ages will instead be mostly forgotten. There was hope at least.

The Uganda Cranes eventual silent departure into the desert night was all head shakes and shattered dreams, but apparent acceptance that unfortunately it was not to be; again. 

As reality sunk in back home, that there would be no history re-written at the 2022 African Nations Championships (CHAN) – as Uganda fell at the group stages for a sixth consecutive time – opinions were concluded in earnest and extreme lines drawn. 

Fortunately, or rather unfortunately – depends on which side of the prism your preening from - rigorous minds have analysed every aspect of the tournament and have come to more insightful conclusions, namely we are not good enough, or plainly the blame lies entirely with the coach. 

Obviously, it is bare logic that Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic’s side have failed despite having control after two group games, but Uganda failed in Sudan in 2011, South Africa 2014, Rwanda 2016, Morocco 2018 and there were darker shades of ‘shitty football’ at Cameroon 2020. 

Apart from Sudan 2011 and Morocco 2018, the Cranes went into the final group game with a chance of progressing, but the scourge of near misses continues to haunt their dream of making a mark at CHAN, and it ended in familiar scenes at the Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algiers 

When Micho spoke after the 1-0 victory over Senegal on Wednesday, he depicted a confident soul, contented with the performance of his group that was on the verge of proving doubters wrong. 

And rightly so, there could be few regrets about the Cranes then, because they had left everything on the pitch and had got themselves into a situation where only they could decide their destiny. 

Uganda were not tactically spectacular against DR Congo or Senegal, but the Cranes had not been undone in any of their opening two games, and had the better of the wider game against both opponents. 

With four points from two games, the general consensus even among the often difficult to please press and doubters’ packs was that Uganda had acquitted themselves well. 

Inside camp, the players and staff believed they could go up a level, and this would be the year of delivery. But against Ivory Coast, nothing could justify their belief. 

Uganda were 2-0 down inside 30 minutes, they were panicking and again lacked control of the game even when the situation screamed for one of those Micho defensive masterclasses and at a stage where they would have been appreciated. 

It is possible Micho did not specifically seize the moment, and this latest episode of disappointment adds to the remaining questions and debates about his inability to steer an evolution of the Cranes. 

Some believe his overall handling of the game and reactions were delayed. Micho has persisted with Frank Ssebuufu as striker, but many feel he has not utilized his attributes sufficiently.  

As brilliant as he can be when involved in buildup play, Ssebuufu didn’t have the right people around him to play off, and when Micho introduced Travis Mutyaba and club teammate Titus Ssematimba, he withdrew the striker. 

Ssebuufu’s lack of speed and movement in the penalty area plus lack of experience at this level left many wondering if Nelson Ssenkatuuka maybe could have provided the Cranes with a different ingredient if played alongside Rogers Mato and Milton Kariisa. 

Afterall, it is that pace that was the difference on the night between the two teams and also saw Uganda earn a penalty to bring the game briefly to 2-1.

The jury is definitely out on the 53-year-old with the scale tilting favourably towards the extremists who think he can’t put a foot right at the moment with little more to look forward to. 

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There was Travis Mutyaba who has yet again proved a genuine gift that may accumulate to even greater importance for Uganda if his career evolves as it has suggested thus far. 

There was an array of industrious young players. There was Titus Ssematimba, Rogers Mato further cemented his growing reputation, James Begisa is another one to really look out for. 

We finally got to see Geofrey Wasswa at an international stage, Kenneth Ssemakula unlocked an extra weapon from his armory playing in midfield, while Alionzi Nafian looks like he will be pushing all the way for a position in the senior team. 

And all of these were more than just promising or pleasing moments. That is because on an individual level they were transformative and are points on a journey that can become epic. 

While this spectacular failure may yet again be looked at as Micho’s, the underlying worry for me is the fact that for a sixth consecutive time, Uganda has failed when they ought to get the business done. 

And to think that these are considered the best players in the StarTimes Uganda Premier League, deepens the worry of their potential to really cut it in pressure environments.

Such perennial failure genuinely flaws the counter argument that Uganda is consistently getting to the continental stage, and therefore we must be doing something right as a country.

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