Uganda starts its 2018 African Nations Championship (Chan) today desperate to profoundly improve the goal tally it has mustered in editions gone by. The Cranes have run on empty when it comes to scoring goals and nothing better explains this predicament than the obvious dearth of creativity.
Sadly, not much seems to have changed with regard to creating and putting away chances.
Your columnist attended Sébastien Desabre’s maiden training session as Cranes coach and was duly offered a ringside view of that, that is all plodding and unimaginative. The visible symbol of creativity at a stretch showed itself true in the two goals scored across the four game situations that were held on that unforgivingly scorching afternoon.
It is a measure of how troubled the lack of creativity is seen to be that a half-fit Tom Masiko was given a chance to audition for a place on the final Chan 2018 team. His heavily taped ankles were a telltale that suggested proving fitness would be a bridge too far. And so it turned out to be.
Uganda could sure have done with a robustly healthy Masiko. The midfielder is seen as a modest player who over-delivers when fit. His directness dovetailed with tirelessness encapsulates what Ugandan teams have over the years come to bank on for a semblance of industry. It fashions chances like a bolt out of the blue and hardly has a structured motif.
Ideally, the likes of Muzamir Mutyaba and Ibrahim Saddam Juma are supposed to provide a structured, creative spark at Chan 2018. The vision and skill set of the two marks them out as schemers that tick boxes of a European-centric creative player. They have, however, exasperated many a coach with performances riddled with inconsistencies.
In a sense, Chan 2018 will be a last chance saloon for both. Juma was part of the party when Uganda made its Chan debut back in 2011. He even scored The Cranes’ solitary goal at the championship during a 2-1 defeat against Gabon.
At the peak of his powers, Juma can be such a sight to behold. But in failing to extricate himself from dead wood, the talented midfielder has done his career little or no favours.
A plague of injuries has also not helped matters. The KCCA FC midfielder could, however, catch a much-needed break if he manages to decisively deal with Uganda’s creative stasis. To achieve this, he will have to fashion loads of chances at Chan 2018.
Mutyaba could also do with a feel-good story on the international scene. After grappling with a bit-part role at Chan 2016, the so-called fantasista will be part of the main cast this time round. Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic used Mutyaba sparingly at Chan 2016 (even playing Timothy Awany in an unfamiliar midfield role against Mali) because the Serb opined that pairing him with Keziron Kizito would “turn our midfield into an express highway.”
Questions of balance will continue to pop up if Desabre bites the bullet and deploys both Mutyaba and Juma. More than concerns about creating a superhighway, the Frenchman – who lays claim to playing an expansive brand of football – will expect that his schemers come up with the goods when he goes for the jugular. If they don’t, The Cranes could well kiss goodbye hopes of breaking a jinx that has seen them not advance to the knockout stage in the past three Chan finals.
City Oilers in catch-me-if-you-can mode
From a purely Ugandan basketball perspective, 2018 is beginning in an eerily similar manner as 2017 – with City Oilers proving to be a cut above others in the National Basketball League.
While KIU Titans have not resembled the shredded carcass that was Betway Power in the 2014 finals, the annals will indicate that they were on the wrong end of a sweep.
True, the Kansanga-based outfit cannot be accused of looking frozen like a streaming video stuck in buffering mode. The Titans did their grisly bit to make a fist of it, but never quite thrived in the clutch situations. In broad essentials, Brian Wathum’s charges cannot be accused of doing a botched job especially since this was their maiden appearance in the finals.
Conventional wisdom suggests that they have to make playing in the finals a routine if they harbour any intentions of making bellicose noises at such a grand stage. Power managed to nick one game off the juggernaut that is Oilers in the 2016 finals. Although they toiled to stumble upon an inch-perfect half-court game to rattle Oilers out of their comfort zone, Power were hailed for not reincarnating the 2014 train wreck.
Such is the dominance of Oilers in the Ugandan backdrop (baby steps count for much)! Their five successive diadems and counting have had a chilling effect on the game. The chasing pack needs an escalating fix in the face of such sheer dominance. The said pack has, however, been reluctant to spell the fix out let alone execute it.
At the start of the season that’s just ended, the murmurs from the chasing pack painted a grave picture to the effect that Oilers could not behave as if nothing untoward had happened in the wake of Kami Kabenge’s departure. We know how that panned out.
Next season, Oilers will have a crack at equaling Falcons’ record of six diadems. You will have to be a brave – some would even say naïve – punter to bet against Mande Juruni and his charges lifting the champagne bottle off the ice when the dust on the 2017 finals settles.
What we now know....
We know that if there is anything cast in stone in the run up to tonight’s Chan opener against Zambia, it is that net-minder Benjamin Ochan will start.
This owes to the simple fact that Ismail Watenga sits out the match because of accumulated bookings.
We know that Ochan has had a tough season at club level, playing second fiddle to Charles Lukwago at KCCA FC. So, seen through the narrow lens of the 2017/18 Uganda Premier League, Cranes fans will fret when Ochan takes his place between the sticks.
We, however, know that Ochan has a big match temperament and will be determined to confound his critics. Best wishes to him and indeed the whole team in Marrakesh.