A football clinic

Tough start. Coach Micho will hope he needs no prayers against Niger. PHOTO / JOHN BATANUDDE

What you need to know:

  • We go again. Strikers Muhammad Shaban is expected to be fit for Wednesday, while Fahad Bayo could also return after inexplicable omission from the squad in Algiers 

Micho Sredojevic and his boys will want to quickly forget the weekend sobering outing in Algiers as the chance for immediate redemption provides itself against Niger on Wednesday at Kitende.

The team arrive back home today, with no time for the Book of Lamentations. Yet, events in the 2-0 defeat in North Africa on Saturday night cannot go unexamined.

The match in which Faruku Miya had his penalty saved in between Aissa Mandi and Youcef Belaïli’s goals in either half leaves Uganda needing to beat Niger to realign their 2023 Afcon journey.

“For us Afcon qualifiers starts on Wednesday,” said Micho after the match. “We gave away unnecessary set-pieces in a dangerous area against a very good team and conceded a cheap goal.

“The penalty miss was also a critical moment. At half time we reduced the gaps until the masterpiece of Belaïli.”

Algeria’s victory has the two-time African champions topping Group F on three points, with Niger and Tanzania on one apiece following their 1-1 draw in  Niamey.

At the July 5, 1965 Stadium, the hosts and Uganda had 90 minutes to contest the football match. But the Fennec Foxes spent 76 and a half of those minutes with the ball, leaving the miserly balance to Cranes (80.5 per cent ball possession against 19.5).

The game at least saw Soltilo Bright Stars midfielder Marvin Youngman, Proline’s Hakim Kiwanuka and U20 stars Steven Sserwadda and Derrick Kakooza get debuts to perhaps signal ongoing transition.

Gulf in class

While an argument could be made for a better performance, an Algerian victory should not surprise anyone given the philosophy and quality gaps between the two countries.

Uganda’s plan was to soak in the pressure and hit Algeria on the break, or take on the Fennec Foxes at their own game and risk further embarrassment.

Where Algeria have French Ligue 1 striker Belaïli and Sporting Lisbon experienced forward Islam Silmani, the Cranes had Emmanuel Okwi, just back to playing football in Rwanda, and Miya, who was playing his first competitive game of any kind in over a year.

In defence, surprise starter at right Gavin Kizito, who was peppered all night, and his SC Villa finished two places above relegation having conceded 32 goals in 30 games.

At left back Isaac Muleme and his second tier Czech Republic side, Viktoria Zizkov, ended their season bottom of the table.

He had to pass a late fitness test to start and hardly crossed the half way line as Algeria restricted the Cranes to their own half.

Central defenders Bevis Mugabi and Halid Lwaliwa, a league champion with Vipers, did their best to contain Silmani but as both goals showed, their best and that of their teammates was far from enough.

Khalid Aucho’s midfield with debutant Youngman and Paradou’s Allan Okello was patrolled almost at will by AC Milan’s Ismael Bennacer and company.

There was hardly a threat from Okwi and Milton Karisa, while Miya squandered his opportunity from the spot.

Actually, goalkeeper Charles Lukwago, who recovered after some nervy start, is the reason Uganda conceded just two.

The Algerians went ahead on 28 minutes when Belaïli floated in a teasing ball after Aucho’s careless foul and Silmani’s header crashed off the bar for Mandi to shoulder it in for 1-0.

The Cranes had a chance to respond before half time when Aucho went down under Rachid Ghaza’s tagging.

Miya, whose career with Lviv never took off following the war in Ukraine, took the resultant penalty and goalkeeper Mustapha Zeghba saved it.

Algeria sealed victory in the 80th minute when the impressive Belaili dribbled almost half the Cranes team to fire home past Lukwago.

Micho’s choices of starting with Kizito ahead of James Begisa and Elvis Bwomono, for example; or an inactive Miya - thanks to his previous goods for the team, ahead of Bobosi Byaruhanga, will of course have raised eyebrows.

But the hard truth is that the difference between Ugandan players is as big as the proverbial margin of error.

Is Micho the right man for the job? Maybe not. But again, even a good juice maker needs quality fruits to squeeze, and answers to that could be traced in Ugandan clubs and Chan team continental performances.

Cranes ratings

7. Charles Lukwago
The only Cranes player to leave the pitch with an enhanced reputation after making a string of fine saves that kept the scoreline respectable. 7/10
2. Gavin Kizito
Exposed in one-on-one situations despite doing his best. Unfortunately, it was not enough for the young right back. 2/10
4. Isaac Muleme
Put in one of his worst displays in Cranes shirt as a result of the team’s set up and wasting possession. 4/10
4. Halid Lwaliwa
Lacked authority for someone who was expected to command the backline and refused to close down Belaili for the second goal. 4/10
5. Bevis Mugabi
Kept Islam Slimani quiet for much of the game but like his defensive partner Lwalirwa fails to offer defensive organisation. 5/10
3. Khalid Aucho
Overzealous at times and made a needless foul that led to the opening goal. His poor passing made it difficult to initiate attacks but worked his socks off defensively. 3/10
4. Marvin Youngman
Thrown in at the deep end on his debut and worked hard off the ball to maintain the team’s shape centrally. Had no time to help offensively. 4/10
3. Allan Okello
The one player with the most natural ability to help unlock opponents. There was only a slight glimpse of that and he needs to stamp his authority more on the team. 3/10
5. Milton Karisa
Chased every lost cause and tried to implement pressing. 5/10
3. Farouk Miya
He never shies away from responsibility but should have done better with his weak penalty kick  3/10
3. Emmanuel Okwi
He seemed to follow the coach’s plan of leading the pressing game. But his primary remains to trouble the opposition with ball. 3/10
Substitutes
2. Martin Kizza
Offered defensive cover for Muleme on the left but hardly touched the ball going forward. 3/10
3. Steven Sserwadda
Hard working and tried to initiate attacks but made little effort as Belaili ghosted past him to score the second goal. 3/10
Not rated
Hakim Kiwanuka,  Derrick Kakooza
Bobosi Byaruhanga
COACH
2. Milutin Sredojevic
Seemed to instill fear and panic into the team rather than give them the confidence to implement his game plan. Also made some curious team selections

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