What you need to know:
- The beauty is that it has given almost every player a clean slate to impress the man in the hot seat as he comes with no baggage of attachment to local clubs and having favourites.
The biggest concern when coach George Lutalo was appointed as Crested Cranes coach last month was that he was not familiar with women’s football.
The beauty is that it has given almost every player a clean slate to impress the man in the hot seat as he comes with no baggage of attachment to local clubs and having favourites.
“Much improved team and performance, right?” a colleague asked this reporter after Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Ethiopia in the first leg of the first round of the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations qualifiers at St Mary’s Stadium, Kitende.
On the back of the great performance against Ethiopia were many decisions that painted the coach in good light.
Indeed, since his first tournament – Cosafa Women Championships in South Africa a fortnight ago, Lutalo has made some brave decisions.
His decision to play UCU Lady Cardinals’ Phoebe Banura in central defence for the entire tourney was as brave as they come.
But also the decisiveness with which he dropped Norah Alupo after a poor first half show against Namibia and later Hasifah Nassuna against Eswatini was characteristic of a man prioritising performance over names. He might have left South Africa without the desired results as Uganda exited at the group stage but he was impressed with the performance of his players.
“We’ve been with the coach for about two months so we have no excuses and we are on the same page in terms of our ambitions,” captain and goalkeeper Ruth Aturo said pre-match.
On Wednesday in Kitende, Lutalo was armed with more players from the U-20 camp that had earlier beaten Kenya 10-3 on aggregate to progress to the third round of their World Cup qualifiers.
He handed left-back Sumaya Komuntale her senior debut, dropping Banura altogether and moving Asia Nakibuuka to partner Shadia Nankya in central defence.
Komuntale’s natural ability was a breath of fresh air on the wing. She repaid the faith with a solid performance that saw her cover for the centre backs several times – long after she had provided the assist for Riticia Nabbosa’s second minute goal.
“I don’t know,” Lutalo said, when asked how long it took the trio and right-back Viola Namuddu to work out a partnership that kept Ethiopia at bay.
“But adaptation is about the abilities of the players. They know that they have a very short time in which to work on a very big load of ideas.”
Up-front, Lutalo also made decisive changes, dropping Alupo, Laki Otandeka and Resty Nanziri from the matchday squad. Under-20s Margaret Kunihira and Fauzia Najjemba started either side of Sandra Nabweteme, while their talisman Juliet Nalukenge was kept on the bench as an impact sub.
Kunihira’s speed came in handy. She pressed hard in the first half, disrupting Ethiopia’s attempt to build play from the back. And when Uganda found a bit more rhythm in the second half, her directness offered a constant attacking channel down the right wing.
Najjemba attempted to emulate the press on the opposite wing without much success but her 76th minute goal could be the reason Crested Cranes fly to Ethiopia with much more confidence.
Nalukenge, too, after coming on in the 52nd minute, got more involved than Nabweteme had managed while Shamirah Nalugya endured a slow start after jumping on for the injured Nabbosa in the 32nd minute but was more lively in the second half playing behind a familiar attacking trio from the U-20 camp.
“The team did well but I still need to give other players a chance to show what they can do,” Lutalo said when asked if he will continue to bring U-20 players into the mix. He had after all summoned goalkeeper Daphine Nyayenga, defenders Biira Naddunga and Samalie Nakacwa, as well as midfielder Shakira Nyinagahirwa to camp.
In taking off Nabweteme in the 52nd minute and Nassuna five later, for Sheebah Zalwango, Lutalo again showed he is not afraid of making the big calls.
“There is a chance she (Nabweteme) could be playing under pressure but it is our duty to motivate her and bring out the best in her. Nassuna is also a very talented player who should be controlling games for us. I think she can give us more and I want to support her as much as I can to realise that potential.
“I am trying to find out why she is not running the game as expected. It could even be an issue off-pitch,” Lutalo said.
He has twice used Nassuna as an attacking midfielder, once as a left forward, and left once as an option off the bench.