On top of playing an opponent with a generally superior advantage in Tanzania, Uganda’s mission to qualify for the Fifa Women U-20 World Cup that ended on Saturday at Star Times Stadium – Lugogo, seemed to be marred with ill-preparation.
With the benefit of hindsight, it also reflects strongly on the depth and quality of players that the Fufa Women Elite League (FWEL) in the years when it was Uganda’s prime ladies’ football competition.
Fufa believes the FWEL has served its course as the top league and a superior Fufa Women Super League (FWSL) was started last year to, in part, prepare players for a proposed continental competition.
Fufa missed a trick?
Remember that the FWEL was started in 2014 after Fufa pulled Uganda out of the 2014 Fifa Women U-20 World Cup qualifiers on the back of a euphoric 22-0 aggregate win over South Sudan.
Uganda was due to play Ghana in the second round after first round opponents Egypt pulled out of the competition.
Fufa took an eye off the age group teams and used the league to build the senior side Crested Cranes, which has been involved in four regional tournaments and two continental qualifiers since 2016.
Despite that, the U-17s have been successful with two trophies and progress into their World Cup first round qualifiers at the expense of Ethiopia after being only put together last year.
Still the U-20s coach Oliver Mbekeka, by no means a fan of the ad-hoc preparations she was subjected to, stopped short of blaming Fufa for costing her team a World Cup dream.
Mbekeka was appointed for this job while she was in the middle of her duties as a fitness coach for theU-17s with just about 10 days to the first leg in Tanzania that Uganda lost 2-1.
For Mbekeka to publicly state that the current crop of players are “unprofessional and did not listen to instructions,” as they were ousted in a 4-2 aggregate preliminary round loss to Tanzania, also raises concerns on the quality of players churned out since the inception of the FWEL.
Lack of quality
“We basically lack midfielders and aggressive players that understand football,” she continued as she explained her decision to play senior team Crested Cranes centre-backs Aisha Namukisa and Shadia Nankya as right-back and midfielder respectively.
Asia Nakibuuka, who after struggling to convince as an attacking player in the Africa Cup qualifiers against Kenya in 2018, has recently been deployed as a left-back for both Crested Cranes and the U-20s.
She has hardly put a foot wrong but her attacking instincts showed as she was instrumental in the opener on Saturday but she quickly cancelled out her effort as she failed to track an opponent for Tanzania’s equalizer 10 minutes later.
The coach initally summoned 30 players – for the first leg in Tanzania – including Margaret Kunihira, Juliet Nalukenge, Fauzia Najjemba, Stella Musibika and goalkeeper Daphine Nyayenga from the U-17 camp that was also in the thick of their qualifier with Ethiopia.
Nyayenga was dropped but returned to start in goal for the second leg. Defenders Bira Nadunga and Samalie Nakacwa were also added from the U-17 camp – a clear sign that Uganda were unprepared for U-20 football as they were in six years ago.
“You know we summoned some players that we thought were under 20 but when the data in their passports was compared to the league licenses, they were not matching so they were ineligible,” Mbekeka said opening a subtle debate about age cheating.
Running on empty
Eventually, having to play four games – including two away from home – took its toll on players like striker Juliet Nalukenge while Fauzia Najjemba did not get on the scoresheet for any of the qualifiers probably because the U-20s relied a lot on her for creativity.
Nalukenge scored in both U-17 qualifers and against Tanzania away but was clearly running on empty on Saturday, when the team needed her poaching instincts most. Coach Mbekeka did not deny allegations that the striker had struggled with sickness throughout the last week of training.
“I think we need to scout and trust more players out there. We need to take the burden off a few individuals.”