There was real worry after former Cranes skipper Ibrahim Sekagya and Nestroy Kizito, mainstays in defence for a decade, retired early last year.
Concerns were especially fuelled by the looming Afcon 2013 and 2014 World Cup qualifiers after the just botched 2012 campaign.
Bobby Williamson, the Cranes coach, had to find a quick fix. He had little worry over the left back vacated by Kizito since Godfrey Walusimbi was now a proven replacement. But the Scot had to find a central defender to bring the calm Sekagya brought next to Andy Mwesigwa. Was it US based Henry Kalungi or St George’s Isaac Isinde, who had won Cecafas alongside FC Ordabasy’s Mwesigwa?
The first experiment in a competitive game in Brazzaville was cataclysmic, Bobby going with Kalungi, who together with Mwesigwa played a part in all three goals conceded. Missives were written, rightly so, questioning the pair’s telepathy.
But the two, together with Walusimbi on the left and right back Simeon Masaba, plus the dependable Dennis Onyango in goal, have since moved on like fighting tigers. They have since conceded just three times in five senior games – two in two World Cup qualifiers (same number scored) and one in three 2013 Afcon tests (five scored).
Kalungi – Mwesigwa and company will hope they only get better for the Cranes badly need not concede if they are to stay chances of ever being at a 2014 World Cup alive when they take on Liberia on Sunday. “I should say I have improved,” assured Kalungi, who has since matured and now reads the game better. “We have improved because in Congo Brazzaville we conceded three goals but when you look at other (consquent) games we have been able to bring it down. We have even had some shut-outs.”
The Cranes, due to fly out by press time, kept a clean sheet in the 4-0 return leg thrashing of Brazzaville and in the 1-0 normal time scoreline over Zambia.
They also kept six clean sheets as they won the country’s 13th Cecafa last December, conceding just once against Kenya in the final, with Kalungi, Walusimbi and Dennis Guma – all expected to start alongside Mwesigwa on Sunday, part of the defence. But they have conceded twice on their last two outings.