Football pundits advocating that only home-based players should feature in the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup completely miss the point. This is a perfect time for the Cranes to regain momentum, as four consecutive away draws have taken the shine off our outstanding record in recent months and seen our position in Fifa rankings plummet six places.
While there are positives to take from stalemates against Kenya (0-0), Saudi Arabia (0-0), Yemen (2-2) and Bahrain (0-0), our technical team must continue searching for ways of ensuring that results on foreign soil are not an anathema.
This tournament has traditionally been an opportunity to try out new players, but the stakes are so high this time around, and coach Bobby Williamson is also keen to ensure continuity. In honesty, the last two editions have been a platform for home-based players to stake their claim for permanent places in the team.
The 2008 edition in Kampala led to the unearthing of Abel Dhaira, Habib Kavuma and Brian Umony. It was also the tournament in which Tony Mawejje got into his element.
Before then, he had been a bit part player with plenty of promise. He has not set a foot wrong since. I was part of the team commentating games for GTV at the 2007 event in Dar es Salaam, and I recall Mawejje being at the same level of development with Owen Kasule.
It is gratifying that the Iceland-based star’s career has since blossomed well enough for him to have the audacity to assert that he is a better player than Inter Milan maestro McDonald Mariga. His presence in Dar is therefore not only assuring, the team can feed off his enthusiasm.
In Nairobi last year, top performers included Tanzania based trio Joseph Owino, Robert Ssentongo and super sub Emmanuel Okwi. Williamson had since inexplicably ignored Okwi, who was as effective an impact substitute as you will ever see.
In fact, my respect for the coach’s tactical ability was cemented by his execution of substitutes. On at least three occasions, players he introduced went on to clinch close encounters within minutes of coming on.
It takes a great coach to make tough decisions and the Scot deserves credit for giving goalkeeping upstarts Robert Odongkara and Godfrey Wakabu a chance ahead of Hamza Muwonge who was the tournament’s outstanding keeper in Nairobi. Since Uganda has been drawn in their toughest Cecafa group for years, the experience of Andy Mwesigwa, who for my money is Cranes’ most committed player during the last decade, will be crucial.
Henry Kisekka, Sula Matovu and Ibrahim ‘Saddam’ Juma are the players making their first excursion into the Cecafa waters and I trust they will acquit themselves well.
I would like to see Juma featuring against Ethiopia. Despite his undoubted talent, he is not an advanced level of physical development and would best thrive against the athletically challenged Horn of Africa opponents.
The re-emergence of Malawi’s Black Flames as a continental force, and invitation of heavyweights Ivory Coast means this Cecafa tourney will be Williamson’s most difficult. His selection of a smattering of pros is therefore in order.