Uganda’s U-20 Women’s coach Olive Mbekeka is keen on putting together a side that plays to the sum of its strengths rather than rely on ability of individuals as she bids to make it to the Fifa U-20 World Cup that will be played in August in Costa Rica and Panama.
Mbekeka’s side take on Tanzania in Dar-es-Salaam tomorrow in the first leg of the first round of Africa’s Fifa U-20 World Cup Qualifiers.
She summoned a group of mainstays from the senior Crested Cranes side and about five players from the U-17 squad, who are also in the thick of a qualification process to the U-17 World Cup due in November in India.
Juliet Nalukenge, who scored in the first round first leg 2-0 win over Ethiopia in last weekend’s U-17 qualifier, and Fauzia Najjemba are particularly expected to extend their form – that saw them score about 40 combined goals in the Cosafa (Mauritius) and Cecafa (Njeru) U-17 tournaments last year – to the U-20s.
“I think they are important players but we are not entirely reliant on them,” Mbekeka told SCORE about the players that are also playing primary roles for the Crested Cranes.
For what it is worth, Ugandan players do not have enough know-how to stop the best of the best at senior level but the re-establishment of the age group teams is exciting and offers an opportunity for the girls to grow into the Crested Cranes squad.
“We expect them to produce but we also have quite a number of options in case things are not going their way.
For the amount of games those two have played, we know fatigue can set in but we are working well with them on recovery,” she added.
For the U-17s, Najjemba has been tasked with accompanying her goals with creativity but the pressure to deliver some of that imagination will be reduced as Mbekeka can call on any of the other options like Kampala Queens’ Zainah Namuleme and Lillian Mutuuzo plus the Kawempe duo of Anita Namata and Shamirah Nalugya in the squad. Margaret Kunihira, who is also part of the U-17 team, is in camp too.
That could leave Najjemba as one of the out-and-out striking options to take the pressure off Nalukenge alongside target-men Norah Alupo and Favour Nambatya.
The strategy of shared loads for the players could be key to stopping a Tanzania side that also won the U-20 Cosafa Championships in South Africa last August.
“We want to focus on our strengths and the opponents’ weaknesses,” Mbekeka explained, who has served as a fitness coach for the U-17 and Crested Cranes teams.
Tale of the tape
Both teams have played Tanzania with the latter losing to them thrice in Cecafa Senior competitions since 2016 while the U-17s labored to a 1-all draw with their physically brutal rivals in Njeru.
“We know that they are physically strong and fast but we are technically better. We want to impose our game on them rather than try to match their strengths.”
From Mbekeka’s explanations, the U-20 team could deploy the same possession-based game that the U-17s are accustomed to under the stewardship of coach Ayub Khalifan.
That makes the two forwards even more important in the puzzle of unlocking Tanzania when the two sides next meet.
Tomorrow in Dar es Salaam
Caf Fifa U-20 World Cup Qualifiers
Tanzania vs. Uganda